What happened: Russia cemented its role as the power broker in Syria, with President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Erdogan agreeing what they described as a “historic” deal after six hours of talks in Sochi, yesterday. The deal aims to keep Kurdish forces away from the Syrian border with Turkey.
- The deal was announced hours before a five-day ceasefire brokered by the United States between Turkey and the Kurds was set to expire
- According to reports, the deal will see Russian military police and Syrian border guards remove the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) 19 miles from the Turkish border, and six days later Turkish and Russian forces will jointly patrol a 10 kilometre strip of land on the Syrian-Turkish border. The YPG will also leave Manbij and Tal Rafat, a pocket of Kurdish control. It was also announced that up to one million Syrian refugees from Turkey will return to Syria.
- Support for the Sochi agreement was divided in the US, with Vice President Mike Pence expressing support, and US Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey voicing opposition.
- On 20 October, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the 1,000 troops that President Donald Trump had intended to bring home from northeast Syria will instead be redeployed to western Iraq to prevent a resurgence of ISIS. But yesterday the Iraqi military said that the US troops did not have approval to enter Iraq
Context: On 9 October, after President Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria, Turkey launched an invasion, with the aim of creating a ‘safe zone’ 32 kilometres deep and 480 kilometres wide with the aim to push out the YPG Kurdish forces. Turkey says the YPG is allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has led an armed insurgency within Turkey and is a banned terrorist group in many countries, including the UK.
- As a result of the invasion, 300,000 civilians have been displaced and 120 civilians killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Prior to the invasion, the US and Turkey had jointly patrolled a safe zone along the border, although Turkey had long been dissatisfied with the arrangement.
Looking ahead: Erdogan now says the operation is over; assuming the deal sticks, and there is good reason that with the presence of Russian and Syrian forces along the border it will, this could be the end of the Turkish operation in eastern Syria
- President Bashar Assad is the unlikely winner in this arrangement. Thanks to the US withdrawal and Russian mediation, Syrian regime forces have re-entered key areas in eastern Syria and have taken up important positions on the Turkish border. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) still occupy large areas in eastern Syria but Assad has a useful launchpad for attempts to retake those areas in the future that contain oil reserves and farmland.
- The Turkish-Russian deal made no mention of the tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and family members currently in detention facilities and camps guarded by Kurdish fighters.
- After a difficult year in domestic politics, President Erdogan can tout a major success for Turkish interests and his fight against terrorism. He may even be tempted to call an early election.