(CNSNews.com) – Russian troops rolled into Kobane in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, on a mission to oversee the withdrawal of Syrian Kurdish fighters and their weapons from the area in line with an agreement reached by the Russian and Turkish presidents a day earlier.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of having openly tried to create a Kurdish “quasi-state” on sovereign Syrian territory, but said all such separatist projects would now be thwarted.
Under the deal reached by President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian military police and Assad regime border guards will together manage the withdrawal of Kurdish YPG fighters from a 30-kilometer wide strip of Syrian territory adjacent to the border with Turkey.
According to a map released by Russia’s defense ministry, this will apply to the entire length of the Syria-Turkey border from the Euphrates River in the west to the border with Iraq in the east – except for the central area which is currently occupied by Turkish forces who invaded on Oct. 9
The Turkish offensive, “Operation Peace Spring,” was designed to clear the area of the YPG – which Turkey’s Islamist president defines as terrorists – and the de-facto autonomous Kurdish zone, to enable the resettling there of millions of Syrian refugees now in Turkey.
The offensive has now been halted, following the end of a temporary ceasefire negotiated last week by Vice President Mike Pence, but Turkish forces will remain in that central area for now. Erdogan claims to have no designs on Syrian territory and says their presence there will not be open ended.
YPG fighters are a key component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an effective ally in the U.S.-led campaign to defeat ISIS and its “caliphate.”
The Erdogan-Putin deal gives the Russians and Assad regime forces 150 hours, until Tuesday, to ensure that the YPG withdraws to south of the 30 kilometer line. Following that, Russia and Turkey will begin join patrols in a strip extending 10 kilometers from the border. (The agreement also requires the YPG to withdraw from two key towns west of the Euphrates, Manbij and Tel Rifaat.)
Although Moscow opposed the Turkish incursion, its interests in the area do benefit from it: Russia intervened in the civil war to prop up its embattled ally in Damascus, and helping Bashar Assad’s regime to extend its effective control over all of Syria again would necessitate an end to the de-facto autonomous Kurdish region.
Known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, and with the SDF effectively serving as its armed forces, the zone encompassed a large swathe of Syrian territory, stretching across parts of four provinces in the country’s northeast – Aleppo, Raqqa, al-Hasakah, and Deir ez-Zor.
Deir ez-Zor is the region where President Trump has now confirmed some U.S. troops will remain to safeguard oilfields which the SDF wrested from ISIS’ control in 2017.
What future support the U.S. may provide to the SDF remains unclear, but Trump spoke by phone Wednesday to SDF commander Gen. Mazloum Abdi, who said in a tweet posted by the SDF press office afterwards that “President Trump promised to maintain partnership with SDF and long-term support at various spheres.”