Russia asks Turkey to refrain from full-scale Syria offensive

Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev attends a session of the peace talks on Syria in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov

ASTANA, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Russia has asked Turkey to refrain from a full-scale ground offensive in Syria, senior Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said on Wednesday, because such actions could trigger an escalation of violence.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said this week that Turkey would attack Kurdish militants in Syria with tanks and soldiers soon, signalling a possible ground offensive in retaliation for a bomb attack in Istanbul.

"We hope our arguments will be heard in Ankara and other ways of resolving the problem will be found," Lavrentyev said, after a fresh round of Syria talks with Turkish and Iranian delegations in Kazakhstan.

Lavrentyev said the United States was following a "destructive" course in northeastern Syria, and resolving the Kurdish issue would be an important factor in stabilising the situation in the region.

Kurds, he said, were "hostages of the United States", which hindered the resolution of the crisis.

The United States has allied with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the YPG Kurdish militia, in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, causing a deep rift with Turkey.

"Without the U.S. presence, the Kurdish issue could have been resolved very quickly, I am sure," Lavrentyev said.

Russia, Turkey and Iran pledged in a joint statement after the talks to further resist "separatist plans aimed at undermining Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity and threatening the national security of neighbouring countries, including through cross-border attacks and infiltration".

Lavrentyev said the sides have discussed getting China involved in further Astana talks as an observer, an idea to which Iran has agreed, while Turkey was still considering it.

Reporting by Tamara Vaal; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alex Richardson

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