Russia calls Turkey's accusations of 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria groundless
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on Thursday that accusations by Turkey of Moscow allegedly conducting ethnic cleansing in Syria are "groundless".
Turkey's prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused Russia on Wednesday of attempted "ethnic cleansing" in northern Syria, saying Moscow was trying to drive out the local Turkmen and Sunni Muslim populations to protect its military interests in the region.
"They want to expel them, they want to ethnically cleanse this area so that the regime (of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) and Russian bases in Latakia and Tartus are protected," Davutoglu told foreign reporters in Istanbul, speaking English.
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The Turkmens are ethnic kin of the Turks and Ankara has been particularly angered by what it says is Russian targeting of them in Syria.
Davutoglu said Russian bombing around Azaz, also in northwest Syria, was designed to cut supply lines to Syrian groups opposed to Assad, Moscow's ally, and ultimately to benefit Islamic State militants.
Both Moscow and Ankara have repeatedly accused the other of helping Islamic State. Both deny the charge.
Turkey, a member of NATO and of the U.S.-led coalition that is bombing Islamic State in Syria, has long called for Assad's overthrow. Russia began intervening directly in Syria's civil war in late September with air strikes in support of Assad.
The intervention has had unintended consequences, notably when Turkey shot down the jet, saying it had strayed into Turkish airspace, an allegation Russia denies.
Davutoglu said Turkey was ready to work with Russia to prevent similar incidents happening again.
Also Thursday, Zakharova said there was still no agreement among global powers on the lists of the Syrian opposition and terrorist groups, one of the key conditions of launching a full-scale peace process in Arab republic.
"Unfortunately, the tempo of this work on the list of the opposition which could be presented in talks with Damascus, as well as on the list of terrorists, is not at the speed ... which was presumed after the Vienna meetings,"she said.