Russian FM: Washington must stop 'playing with fire' in Syria

by Garry Watts February 21, 2018, 3:32
Russian FM: Washington must stop 'playing with fire' in Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned the United States not to meddle in the Syrian conflict, accusing the Trump administration of trying to undermine the Arab Republic's territorial integrity and of supporting the autonomy-seeking Kurds in order to further its own interests.

Now, the Russian foreign minister is accusing the Americans of using the Kurds to partition Syria, which would be tantamount to playing with fire.

The contractors, mostly ex-military, carry out missions assigned to them by the Russian military, the people familiar with the deployment said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said last week that five Russians who were not military personnel may have been killed in the clash, and claimed that reports putting the Russian toll in the dozens or hundreds was "disinformation".

But details of the operation have gradually emerged, along with growing anger inside Russian Federation that its citizens' deaths are being quietly ignored as inconvenient bad news ahead of President Vladimir Putin's run for re-election next month.

The mercenaries were apparently working for a private Russia-based military company called the Wagner Group.

Russian officials refuse to admit Russian mercenaries are in Syria despite mounting reported evidence that they are active fighting in the interests of the Syrian government.

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Relatives of the dead are demanding to know what happened.

"I understand that the Russian government now is saying some of their not military forces, but contractors, were involved in that still unexplained attack", Mattis said.

But Mattis said the USA did not know who had given the orders.

"Was it local direction?"

The military began a partial withdrawal from Syria in December on orders by President Vladimir Putin, soon after Syrian troops completed the destruction of the main Islamic State terrorist forces in the war-torn country.

"I doubt that 257 people all just decided on their individual own selves to suddenly cross the river into enemy territory and start shelling a location and maneuvering tanks against it", Mattis told reporters on a flight back to Washington from Europe at the weekend. "Was it from external sources?Don't ask me.I don't know", the USA defense secretary said.

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