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

After talks with Putin, Erdogan says Kurdish fighters will withdraw 30km (19 miles) from the frontier within 150 hours.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says a deal has been reached with Russia for Kurdish fighters to withdraw from a Turkish-ruled “safe zone” in northeast Syria within 150 hours, after which Ankara and Moscow will run joint patrols around the area.

The announcement was made after marathon talks in Sochi between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, hours before a United States-brokered five-day truce between Turkish and Kurdish-led forces was due to expire.

On October 9, Turkey launched an offensive aimed at carving out a “safe zone” cleared of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Ankara considers “terrorists”, as well as at repatriating some of the 3.6 million refugees currently residing on its soil.

According to the deal announced at a joint news conference in Sochi, Ankara will control a 32km-wide (20 miles) area between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, which covers 120km (75 miles) of the Turkish-Syrian border.

Beginning on Wednesday at noon, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will start removing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which spearheaded the SDF, and their weapons 30km (19 miles) from the border area. Once this is complete, within 150 hours, Turkish and Russian forces will run joint patrols 10km (six miles) to the east and west of the zone.

Ankara and Moscow, which have backed opposing sides in Syria’s long-running war, also reiterated to their commitment to the preservation of the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria and the protection of the national security of Turkey. 

The Sochi memorandum also said the YPG and their weapons would be removed from Manbij and Tal Rifat, where Syrian government forces moved in after the Kurdish-led fighters struck a deal with Damascus to fend off a Turkish assault. Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s main military ally.

Since last week’s truce deal, Ankara had repeatedly warned that the offensive would immediately restart if the SDF did not withdraw from the region.

“Turkey needed an outcome that satisfied its security concerns,” Ahmet K Han, a Turkish professor of international relations, said.

“And although the ‘safe zone’ is not as large as Turkey wants, Russian and Syrian control on the areas previously held by the YPG and its removal from the region satisfy these concerns,” he added.

Turkey had long said it wanted to establish a 444km-long (276-mile) and 32km-wide (20-mile) “safe zone”. However, during the truce, the US and the SDF said the withdrawal would only cover an area of about 120km (75 miles) between the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad – something that was also confirmed by the agreement reached in Sochi.