SOCHI, Russia (AFP) – Russia and Turkey have agreed to ensure Kurdish forces withdraw from areas close to Syria’s border with Turkey and to launch joint patrols, in a deal hailed as “historic” by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
After marathon talks in Russia’s southern city of Sochi, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced the deal late on Tuesday, just hours ahead of a deadline for Turkey to restart its assault on Syrian Kurdish forces.
As the evening deadline passed, Turkey said there was “no need” to relaunch the offensive.
The agreement cements Russia and Turkey’s roles as the main foreign players in Syria, after United States (US) President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from the country’s north earlier this month.
That announcement cleared the way for Turkey to launch a cross-border military push on October 9 against the Kurdish YPG militia, viewed by Ankara as “terrorists” linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey has seized control of a “safe zone” inside Syria about 120 kilometres long and 32 kilometres deep.
Tuesday’s agreement with Moscow will see it preserve that zone between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, giving Ankara a crucial presence inside the country.
From noon yesterday, Russian military police and Syrian border guards would “facilitate the removal” of Kurdish fighters and their weapons from within 30 kilometres of the border.
This withdrawal must be finalised within 150 hours, according to a text of the agreement released after the talks.
Russian and Turkish forces will then begin joint patrols along the Turkish-controlled zone.
In the early hours of yesterday, Turkey said it had been informed by the US that their withdrawal from the border areas had been “completed”.
“At this stage, there is no further need to carry out a new operation,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
Putin said the decisions were “very important, if not crucial, to allowing us to resolve the acute situation on the Syrian-Turkish border”.
In a phone call to the Russian leader, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in reference to the Kurds that “those with separatist designs were responsible for what events have come to”.
However, he also stressed “his complete refusal of any invasion of Syrian land under any name or pretext”, Syrian state news agency SANA said.
The Syrian President has repeatedly said he will eventually restore government control over all parts of Syria.
After decades of marginalisation, Syria’s Kurds have largely stayed out of the country’s eight-year civil war, instead building their own institutions in the northeast of the country – but they insist they never wanted secession.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the area of the “safe zone” was calm late on Tuesday.