Russia is trying to poach U.S.-backed rebel groups in Syria by offering them a much sweeter deal of “unlimited amounts of weaponry and close air support.”
Rebel groups are clearly tempted by the offer. Mustafa Sejry from the Liwa al-Mu’tasim Brigade told The Daily Beast that he met with the Russians about 10 days ago on the Syrian-Turkish border, at which point he was given a direct offer to switch loyalty away from the U.S. and target both the Islamic State and Jabhat Fatah al-Sahm, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
Part of the reason Sejry is going public with details of the prospective deal is likely to secure a better arrangement with the U.S., though so far his U.S. contacts seem to care very little about getting into a bidding war with Russia by offering him better support.
“Honestly, I would have never ever even thought about working with the Russians after their horrific atrocities against us and their slaughtering thousands of my own people,” Sejry said. “But this change of mindset I blame on the Americans.”
Sejry feels in part betrayed because his group has “received only one month worth of salaries in the last three months” from the U.S.
The Russian contact reportedly told Sejry that the Americans “are not serious about fighting terrorist groups.”
“We are more reliable and trustworthy,” the Russians reportedly told Sejry. “Just look how we stood with Assad all this time. And look at the Americans. They are not truthful, they’re not supporting you guys. We’ll be 100 percent with you.”
Sejry is set to have additional discussions with the Russians, which he implied were arranged by the Turkish government. If true, this could further damage Turkish-U.S. relations, which are already strained following the coup attempt against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has blamed the coup attempt on Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers, known as Gulenists, have major influence in Turkish politics and the military apparatus. Gulen currently lives in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and Erdogan is convinced he’s being sheltered by the U.S. and potentially used as a puppet. Turkey has issued an arrest warrant for Gulen and has aggressively lobbied the U.S. to extradite Gulen.
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