MOSCOW (Reuters) – Any incursion into Syrian territory by a foreign power would be illegal, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, in a statement clearly designed to be heard in Turkey.
Turkey, opposed to the government in neighboring Syria and worried about advances by Kurdish militants in Syrian territory, this week had to deny a media report that it had already sent troops over the border.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also told Reuters this week that his country, Saudi Arabia and some European powers wanted ground troops in Syria, though no serious plan had been debated.
Asked about the implications of any ground incursion into Syria, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters: “We view Syria’s territory as the territory of a sovereign state. Any incursion into the territory of a sovereign state is illegal.”
Russia’s relations with Turkey hit a low in November when Turkish warplanes downed a Russian bomber near the Syrian-Turkish border, a move described by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “dastardly stab in the back”.
Russian warplanes entered Syria’s increasingly complex, five-year-old conflict at the end of September, backing the forces of their ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and bombing rebel positions.
Russia’s Maria Zakharova rejected accusations by Turkey, the Unites States and their allies that Russia had attacked hospitals and other civilian targets in Syria.
“The tasks faced by Russia’s aerospace forces are to lessen the terrorist threat, in particular to the Russian Federation,” she said. “We act at the request of the Syrian leadership, of official Damascus, which the United Nations continues to recognize as legitimate.”
The United States, leading an alliance launching air attacks on Islamic State militants in Syria, has so far ruled out sending its own ground troops there, apart from small numbers of special forces