Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday agreed on a deal that foresees the removal of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from an Ankara-planned “safe zone” in north-eastern Syria within 150 hours, after which Ankara-Moscow joint patrols will be run.
, The presidents announced the memorandum to reporters at a joint press conference in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi where they held marathon talks for more than six hours. This was just hours before a US-brokered five-day truce expired at 10 pm local time.
Ankara, together with its rebel allies fighting the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, initiated an incursion on October 9 against the YPG which is deemed by it as a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) waging a separatist insurgency within the country since 1984.
With the incursion, Turkey also eyes to form a proposed “safe zone” in the region where he plans to resettle up to two million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
The deal that could put an end to Turkey’s offensive was hailed by Erdogan as “a historic agreement”.
“According to this agreement, Turkey and Russia will not allow any separatist agenda on Syrian territory,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan’s Turkey will be controlling an area 32km-wide (20 miles) between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, which covers 120km (75 miles) of the Turkish-Syrian border, according to the conduct.
Within 150 hours from Wednesday noon, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will start pulling out the YPG, with its weapons 30km (19 miles) being taken away from the region.
The YPG with its arms will also be removed from Manbij and Tal Rifat, where al-Assad forces had moved in after the YPG struck a deal with Damascus last week to fend off the Turkish attack.
When the pull-outs are over, Turkish-Russian joint patrols will be carried out 10km (6 miles) to the east and west of the zone, with the exception of Qamishli, a de-facto Kurdish capital.
In the memorandum, Turkey which supports the rebels and Moscow which backs al-Assad’s regime have emphasized once again their commitment to Syria’s political unity and territorial integrity, alongside the protection of Turkey’s national security.
At the beginning of the civil war in Syria, Erdogan first called for al-Assad’s ousting but has since shifted his priority to prevent a mass influx of refugees from Idlib in Syria’s northwest. This has made al-Assad’s position to look gradually secure.
All parties to the conflict, the Turkish troops, Turkey-allied Syrian rebel proxies, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spearheaded by the YPG and al-Assad forces are now all present in the border zone, with Russia the only negotiating force between them.
However, the deal has not mentioned anything about the nearby province of Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in northwest Syria where Turkey maintains observation posts.
Al-Assad paid a symbolic visit to southern Idlib on Tuesday for the first time in years, calling Erdogan “a thief” and saying he was ready to support any resistance against the Turkish offensive. He added that Kurdish fighters would be given amnesty if they returned to the fold of his government.
“We are in the middle of a battle and the right thing to do is to rally efforts to lessen the damages from the invasion and to expel the invader sooner or later,” al-Assad said.
According to some analysts, with the latest memorandum, Putin has emerged as the most powerful player in Syria’s complex war in its ninth year, replacing the influence of the United States (US) in the region.
This result came after US President Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing the US troops from north-eastern Syria, just before the Turkish incursion into the region.
Trump’s move was decried at home and abroad as a betrayal of the YPG which was once US ally in a five-year-campaign to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS).
As a result of the two-week Turkish operation, at least 140 civilians were killed, among them 20 in Turkey and 176,000 Syrians displaced, the United Nations (UN) said on Tuesday.