Russia’s defence ministry has said about 300 more Russian military police have arrived in Syria under a deal between Ankara and Moscow which halted Turkey’s military operation into northeast Syria.
The agreement, reached on Tuesday by Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, requires that Russian military police and Syrian border guards remove the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from within 30km (19 miles) of the Turkish border by next Tuesday.
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The military police, from the southern Russian region of Chechnya, will patrol and help with the withdrawal of Kurdish forces and their weapons to 30km (19 miles) of the Syrian-Turkish border, Interfax news agency reported the ministry as saying on Friday.
Ankara regards the YPG a “terrorist group” and an extension Ankara of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an armed campaign in southeast Turkey since 1984.
Turkey launched its offensive against the YPG on October 9 after President Donald Trump ordered US forces out of northeast Syria. It halted its assault under a US-brokered ceasefire that called for a YPG withdrawal from the border area. The Putin-Erdogan deal built on and widened that agreement.
Russia said on Thursday the peace plan was being implemented smoothly and RIA news agency quoted an SDF official as saying Kurdish fighters had already withdrawn from the border area.
However, the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accused Turkey of launching a large land offensive on Thursday targeting three villages in northeast Syria despite the truce, forcing thousands more civilians to flee.
Turkey’s Defence Ministry has not commented directly on the SDF report but said five of its military personnel had been wounded in an attack by the YPG militia around the border town of Ras al-Ain, near where the three villages are located.
Ceasefire holding ‘by and large’
The UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told Reuters news agency the ceasefire seemed to be holding “by and large” as major powers gather in Geneva before the first meeting of Syria’s Constitutional Committee next week.
On Friday, Pedersen was holding talks with senior officials from Arab and Western countries.
James Jeffrey, US special representative for Syria, is among the envoys who began closed-door talks in the Swiss city, diplomats said. The so-called “Small Group” also includes the United Kingdom, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
A diplomat told Reuters that Germany’s proposal for a security zone in northeast Syria would be among issues discussed.
Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar discussed the Syria situation with his US counterpart, Mark Esper, at a NATO meeting in Brussels on Friday, the Turkish defence ministry said. No details of their talks were immediately available.
Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said Ankara had formally asked Washington to detain and extradite SDF commander Mazloum Kobani when he enters the United States.
In a move criticised by Ankara, US senators have asked the State Department to swiftly provide a US visa for Kobani, whose SDF was a key US ally against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group Islamic State fighters in Syria.
Ankara says Kobani was a senior leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a “terrorist” group by Turkey, the US and European Union.
Turkey hosts some 3.6 million refugees who fled the eight-year-old war in Syria and plans to settle up to two million refugees in a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border.
An Amnesty International report published on Friday said Turkey was forcibly sending refugees back to Syria. Ankara denies sending any Syrians back against their will.
Next Tuesday, under the terms of the deal reached by Erdogan and Putin, Russian and Turkish forces will start to patrol a 10km (six miles) strip of land in northeast Syria where US troops had been deployed for years alongside their former Kurdish allies.
The arrival of the Russian police marks a shift in the regional balance of power just two weeks after Trump began pulling out US forces. It has also highlighted a growing security relationship between Russia, now the dominant power inside Syria, and NATO member Turkey.
Turkey’s military operation has been widely condemned by its NATO allies, which said it was causing a fresh humanitarian crisis in Syria’s eight-year conflict and could let ISIL prisoners held by the YPG escape and regroup.