Russian forces in Syria headed for the border with Turkey Wednesday to ensure Kurdish fighters pull back after a deal between Moscow and Ankara wrested control of the Kurds’ entire heartland.
Kurdish forces, who previously controlled nearly a third of Syria, have lost almost everything after Turkey secured the right to remain fully deployed in an Arab-majority area that was the main target of a two-week-old offensive.
The agreement Tuesday in Sochi also requires Kurdish militia to pull back to a line 30 kilometres from the border along its entire length (440 kilometres), forcing them to relinquish control of some of their main towns.
The deal — hailed as “historic” by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — quashes the Kurdish minority’s dreams of a semi-autonomous region and makes way for the absorption of their de facto army into the regime’s military.
On Wednesday, the Rossiya-24 television channel and TASS news agency quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying a convoy of Russian military police had crossed the Euphrates River at noon (0900 GMT) and “advanced towards the Syrian-Turkish border”.
Russian military police and Syrian border guards are to “facilitate the removal” of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters and their weapons from within 30 kilometres (18 miles) of the Turkish-Syrian border, as per the Sochi deal.
This withdrawal must be finalised within 150 hours.
– ‘Kill, displace and occupy’ –
Russian and Turkish patrols will then start in two zones stretching 10 kilometres (six miles) to the east and west of Turkey’s safe zone, which is about 120 kilometres long (75 miles) and 32 kilometres deep.
This will allow Turkey to patrol with Russia in areas inside Syria that were not part of its offensive.
A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said Russian military police patrolled the key city of Kobani on Wednesday.