Russia, Turkey Agree to Share Control of Northeastern Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal on Tuesday to share control of Syria's northeast that requires Kurdish fighters to clear the entire length of the Syria-Turkey border.
They agreed to remove the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to beyond 30 km (19 miles) from the Turkish border, after which their troops will jointly patrol a narrower strip of land in a “safe zone” Ankara has long sought in northern Syria.
Beginning at noon (0900 GMT) on Wednesday, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will move in to facilitate the removal of YPG members and weapons to beyond the zone in a mission that should take about six days, according to the deal.
The agreement allows Russian and Syrian regime troops to control the rest of the border.
Meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin and Erdogan also agreed that their troops will conduct joint patrols of the border area.
The agreement gives Kurdish fighters another 150 hours beginning Wednesday afternoon to clear all remaining areas alongside the 440-kilometer Turkey-Syria border.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed the deal as one that would end the bloodshed in the region, while Erdogan said Turkey had no designs on Syrian territory as it continued to push the YPG south.
The YPG, the key component in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that have for years fought alongside US troops against ISIS, will also leave the towns of Tel Rifaat and Manbij under the deal struck between Erdogan and Putin.
“The main aim of the operation is to take out PKK/YPG terror organizations from the area and to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees,” Erdogan told a joint news conference with Putin.
Ankara regards the YPG as terrorists because of their ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey.
“This operation also guarantees Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity... We never had any interest in Syria’s land and sovereignty,” Erdogan added.
Erdogan added that Ankara would also work with Moscow for the safe return of Syrian refugees now in Turkey.
Earlier Tuesday, Kurdish forces said they completed their pullout from a zone along the Syrian border as required under a US-brokered ceasefire deal hours before it was set to expire Tuesday.