ANKARA: Russia has warned Kurdish forces to withdraw from the Syrian-Turkey border region following a deal between Moscow and Ankara over control of the disputed territory.
The deal was reached in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi late on Tuesday, two weeks after Turkish troops launched a military offensive to push Kurdish-led YPG militia out of northern Syria.
Turkey’s operation to establish a buffer zone below its southern border followed a US decision to pull its troops out of territory once held by the Kurds, a move condemned by Kurdish leaders as a “betrayal.”
The deal between Turkey and Russian gives Syrian President Bashar Assad power over more territory after Moscow pushed Ankara to recognize the Syrian government’s authority in the 30-km-deep security zone.
Turkey’s only direct relations with the Assad regime are via its intelligence services.
Moscow and Ankara sealed the deal hours before the expiry of of conditional cease-fire between Turkey and the US. Turkey said that it had no plans to carry out out fresh military operations in northern Syria “at this stage.”
Alexey Khlebnikov, a Middle East expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, described the deal as “quite a realistic agreement.”
However, Khlebnikov warned that remaining US troops in northeastern Syria could hinder the reintegration of Kurds under Syrian control.
“With the withdrawal of the YPG, this agreement significantly decreases any chance of a new Turkish incursion into the region,” he told Arab News. “As for the Syrian army, it will be deterred by Turkish and Russian forces.”
Under the deal, Turkish and Russian troops will conduct joint patrols in a 10-km perimeter along the Turkish border. The YPG is also expected to withdraw from the Syrian border town of Qamishli.
Bill Park, a visiting research fellow at King’s College London, said that Turkey has been pressured by Moscow to abandon rebels forces it previously backed in Syria.
“I wonder how those rebels will feel about Turkey if that is the case? Some of them are unlikely to forgive Turkey or to be forgiven by Damascus,” he said.
Park said that Russia has asked Turkey to enter into a dialogue with Damascus and the Kurds.
“With regards to relations with Damascus, this would be quite a shift for Turkey, and I doubt the Assad regime will be easily persuaded to trust Turkey for some time,” he told Arab News.
“However, given the two countries’ shared desire for stability in Syria and for an end to the Kurdish experiment, they should logically align with each other,” he said.
Iran’s absence from the Sochi talks has led to suggestions that Tehran was frozen out of the negotiation process after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Iran of betrayal over its Syria operation.
A key question is whether the Russian-Turkish deal will mean a lifting of US sanctions on Turkey.
Ali Cinar, a US-based foreign policy expert, said that many Republican senators are reluctant to punish Turkey over its military offensive, and are more comfortable “giving the administration space” on the issue.
Cinar said that Russia’s growing strength in Syria and the US departure from the region will “change all the dynamics” in the conflict-stricken country.
“Iran is still a big threat in the region. But the US and Turkey need one another, and they need to work together,” he said.