Russia military police deploy in north Syria under truce deal

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Russia military police deploy in north Syria under truce deal

Russian military police deployed on the streets of Syria‘s northeast border town of Kobane on Thursday under a deal with Turkey to drive out Kurdish fighters.

Moscow will send a further 276 military policemen and 33 units of military hardware to Syria in a week, Russia’s RIA news agency cited a defence ministry source as saying.

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Their arrival marked the start of a mission by Russian and Syrian security forces to push Kurdish fighters 30km (19 miles) into Syria under an accord reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kobane is of special significance to Kurdish forces who fought off Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters trying to seize the city in 2014-15 in one of the fiercest battles of Syria’s conflict.

The Russia-Turkey deal on Tuesday sealed the return of Russia’s ally President Bashar al-Assad’s forces along the northeastern border for the first time in years. It also marked Moscow’s deepening influence in the region two weeks after the United States started to pull out forces from Syria.

The balance of power in Syria’s years-long civil war has shifted significantly since Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops on October 6, allowing Turkish-backed forces to sweep in to attack Washington’s former Kurdish-led allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Turkey paused its offensive last week under a US-brokered deal that called for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which form the backbone of the SDF, to withdraw. Ankara then secured Russian support this week for a wider deal requiring the YPG’s removal from the whole northeast border.

Ankara considers the YPG a “terrorist” group linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish separatist group inside Turkey. The PKK is designated as a “terrorist group” by the United States and the European Union.

Russia and the Kurds

A complete pullout of the YPG would mark a victory for Erdogan who has said he is seeking to create a “safe zone” for the return of millions of Syrian refugees.

Next Tuesday, Russian and Turkish forces will jointly start to patrol a 10km (6-mile) strip of land in northeast Syria where US troops had long been deployed along with their former Kurdish allies.

Turkey, Russia reach deal for YPG move out of Syria border area

It was not immediately clear how the SDF withdrawal could be enforced.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned Kurdish forces if they did not retreat, Syrian border guards and Russian military police would have to fall back.

“And remaining Kurdish formations would then fall under the weight of the Turkish army,” he said.

The Kurdish-led SDF was Washington’s main ally in the fight to dismantle ISIL’s self-declared “caliphate” in Syria.

‘Thank you’

SDF commander Mazloum Abdi held a phone call with Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, Interfax news agency reported, and said he backed the actions of Russian military police and the Syrian military.

“Currently, units of the Russian military police and regular Syrian troops are being deployed into many locations. We are providing them with all kind of help and assistance,” Russian news network RT quoted Abdi as saying.

Abdi thanked Russia “for ensuring safety of the Kurdish people” while discussing with Shoigu the implementation of the deal. 

Following Turkey’s announcement that its offensive against the Kurdish forces was over, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the ceasefire it brokered last week was now permanent and he was lifting all sanctions imposed on Ankara.

Turkey’s military operation was widely condemned by its NATO and European Union allies, who said it was causing a new humanitarian crisis in Syria’s eight-year conflict and could allow ISIL prisoners being held by the YPG to escape and regroup.

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