Russia joins Turkey in its pursuit for the ‘Safe-Zone’ in Syria

Russia and Turkey have had converging interests in the Syrian civil war almost since the Turkey became a party to the conflict back in 2016, only until recently when Turkey announced Operation Peace Spring on Oct 09, 2019 to secure North Syria East of Euphrates (controlled by YPG and other Kurdish militias, who self declared the region autonomous only recently and named it Rojava) and establish ‘Safe-Zone’ for the return of at least 02 million displaced Syrians. 

Syria- Prior to Operation Peace Spring

Moscow sided with Assad briefly who was against Ankara on this move considering it a foreign invasion, until last week when US and Turkey struck an agreement on October 17 for a temporary cease fire of 150 hours allowing Kurdish militants to pull back from most of the proposed ‘Safe-Zone’. Now this week on Tuesday, things took another turnaround in Syria for good when Turkey and Russia have agreed what they say is a “historic” deal aimed at keeping Kurdish forces away from Syria’s border with Turkey.

Under the deal, Syrian and Russian forces will immediately oversee a withdrawal of Kurdish forces. The deal sets out plans for joint Turkish-Russian patrols along the border starting next week. Under the deal, Russia has agreed to allow Turkish troops to remain in the area they have taken and to retain sole control. This must not be forgotten that It was Washington at first agreed earlier in August to create a safe area in northern Syria, begin joint patrolling and establish a ‘peace corridor’ to facilitate the return of displaced Syrians. But actual progress was slow on the ground as the US insisted on protecting and supporting its Kurdish allies- the YPG in the zone which finally led Turkey launch the Operation Peace Spring almost immediately after the abrupt announcement of Mr. Donald Trump about US military’s pull out from the North Syria.

In its Operation Peace Spring, as per BBC, Turkey has seized a 120km-long strip of land between the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad – part of its attempt to create a “safe zone” to resettle up to two million refugees currently in Turkey and remove the Kurdish fighters.

Situation in North Syria as of Oct 21, after a cease fire during Operation Peace Spring

Under the ceasefire brokered by the US on Oct 17, Kurdish fighters were given 150 hours to pull back 30km (18 miles) along almost the whole frontier from the Euphrates, just east of Manbij, to the Iraqi border. It was set to expire on Tuesday evening and Turkey had threatened to re-launch its offensive against the Kurdish fighters. It said there was now “no need”. The deal between Moscow and Ankara was announced after six hours of talks on Tuesday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian host, Vladimir Putin, in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Kurdish militias and political leaders have made no immediate comment on whether they will agree to the demands.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has previously raised concerns about foreign interference in Syria however, the Kremlin has said that President Assad thanked President Putin and “expressed his full support for the results of the work as well as the readiness of the Syrian border guards, together with the Russian military police, to reach the Syrian-Turkish border”. Iran’s foreign ministry said the deal was a positive step and that it backed any move to restore stability in the region. As a result of Turkish offensive, US imposed sanctions on Turkey briefly, but the same have also been lifted as of date in line with Trump’s latest announcement.

Turkey is already home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees since the start of Syrian civil war in 2011 and wish to resettle as much of them as possible in Syria after establishing a 30km ‘Safe-Zone’, in North Syria.

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