Russian FM denies Afrin withdrawal

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied reports that his country’s troops have withdrawn from the Syrian canton of Afrin to allow for a Turkish invasion of the area, Russian state news website Sputnik said.

Turkish state news agency Anadolu had previously reported that Russian soldiers were returning to their base.

Neither the Russian defence ministry nor the Kremlin has made any official statement on Russia’s approximately 200 troops stationed in the area, despite a buildup of Turkish and Free Syrian Army (FSA) soldiers and heavy weaponry on its borders and the shelling of majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) targets.

YPG forces also began shelling FSA troops last night, secular newspaper Hürriyet reported.

Lavrov also appeared to blame Turkish negligence for a recent drone attack against a Russian base in Syria.

"There have to be 23-24 observer posts in Turkey, and unfortunately a lack of such posts in Idlib was the reason for the terrorist attack on the Hmeymim base," Sputnik quoted him as saying.