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Russia, Turkey agree on joint control of northern Syria as US exits

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Johannesburg, July 26, 2018. (en.Kremlin.ru/Released)
October 22, 2019

Russia and Turkey will now conduct joint patrols in northern Syria, following the departure of the majority of U.S. forces stationed in the area.

News of a partnership between the NATO-allied Turkey and Russia –  which has lent support to the Syrian government in its ongoing civil war – followed a Tuesday press conference in Russia, according to Reuters. The agreement is the conclusion of a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Erdogan said Turkey and Russia will carry out joint patrols in northeast Syria, which they claim will be part of an effort to enforce a ceasefire with Kurdish elements in the area.

The agreement follows the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria ahead of a Turkish military offensive to enforce a roughly 20-mile wide, 300-mile long buffer zone between Turkey and Syria.

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Beginning Wednesday morning, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will reportedly move in to the border region to begin operations to oust the Kurdish-Syrian Defense Force (YPG) members and weapons outside the buffer zone in a mission expected to take about six days to complete, according to the deal’s assessment of the situation in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the deal would end bloodshed in the region while Erdogan suggested Turkey has no further designs on control of Syrian territory beyond the ousting of YPG fighters which the Turkish government in Ankara has connected to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Erdogan said, “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.”

The departure of U.S. troops ahead of the original Turkish offensive led many U.S. lawmakers and foreign policy commentators to raise concerns about the threat Turkey posed to the YPG, which have fought alongside U.S. forces in the effort to defeat the Islamic State terrorist caliphate.

The apparent friendliness between Turkey and Russia also comes in contrast to efforts by Erdogan in September to pressure the U.S. to fulfill Turkish wishes for their security zone and more recent aggressive behavior by Turkish forces which landed artillery strikes close to established U.S. positions.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to the Turkish capital of Ankara to secure a ceasefire agreement with Erdogan. The agreement called for a 120-hour period to allow Kurds in the area of Turkey’s military offensive to withdraw before Turkey would resume its operation.