Russia denies Turkish charge of 'ethnic cleansing' in northern Syria

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is accusing Russian troops of carrying out ethnic cleansing operations in northern Syria to protect Russia's military assets.

Russia has two bases in the region, and Turkey is saying that the Russians are moving ethnic minorities and Sunnis out of their ancestral homes because they are a security risk.


"Russia is trying to make ethnic cleansing in the northern Latakia [region] to force [out] all Turkmen and Sunni populations who do not have good relations with the [Syrian] regime," Mr Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul on Wednesday.

He said Russian air strikes were "strengthening" the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

Russia says its bombers are attacking IS and other jihadist groups in Syria, helping the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

However, Western analysts and Syrian rebel sources say most of the Russian bombing has targeted anti-Assad groups who are not jihadists.

Appearing on television with the orange metal box from the Su-24, President Putin said the recorder it contained would help prove the Russian jet's flight path and position.

"Whatever we learn won't change our attitude to what the Turkish authorities did," he said.

"We used to treat Turkey not only as our friend but also as an ally in the fight against terrorism. Nobody expected this low, treacherous stab in the back."

There's no way of knowing if Turkey's accusations are true.  The human rights monitors are not present in any great number in that region – a stronghold of President Assad.  But from the Russian standpoint, removing security threats makes sense – especially if President Vladimir Putin is preparing a fallback position in case President Assad is threatened with being deposed or removed by peace negotiations.

One possible solution to the Syrian quagmire is to create a rump Syrian state in northern Syria, where the ruling Alawite sect is most numerous.  Creating a safe space for Assad to rule while maintaining access to the sea and Russian air bases would be a last resort for Putin, but as the civil war drags on, the possibility grows in likelihood.  The majority-Sunni population – about 70% – will never accept Assad as leader again.  The rebels – both jihadis and more secular fighters – are refusing to talk peace until Assad is gone.

No one can predict the course of the war, but the possibility of dividing Syria in three – an Alawite, a Sunni, and a Kurdish sector – will grow the longer the conflict rages.

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