Putin, Erdogan Strike Deal on Joint Patrols of the Syria Border
(Bloomberg) -- Russia and Turkey struck a deal on an operation to secure a buffer zone in northern Syria, including joint patrols and coordinated action with Syrian forces to remove Kurdish fighters from the area.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged from more than six hours of talks on Tuesday to announce the agreement, which they said would begin at noon on Wednesday.
“We’ve signed a historic memorandum with Putin for the territorial and political integrity of Syria and the return of refugees,” Erdogan said at a joint news conference in Russia’s Sochi. They reached “crucial” decisions that will help “resolve the rather acute situation that has developed on the Syrian-Turkish border,” Putin said.
The announcement came hours before the expiration of a five-day cease-fire that the U.S. arranged between Turkey and Kurdish forces that Erdogan brands terrorists but who fought alongside the U.S. against Islamic State in Syria.
U.S. officials said the cease-fire mostly held and that they hoped it would become permanent. Vice President Mike Pence’s office said in a statement that the leader of the Kurdish YPG militia sent him a letter confirming his forces met their obligations and “have withdrawn from the relevant area of operations.”
Trump later tweeted the “good news seems to be happening with respect to Turkey, Syria and the Middle East!”
Under the arrangement reached by Putin and Erdogan, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will “facilitate the removal” of Kurdish YPG militia and their weapons to a distance of at least 30 kilometers from the border with Turkey within 150 hours, according to the agreement. Turkish and Russian forces will then begin joint patrols to the west and east of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring zone inside Syria to a depth of 10 kilometers (19 miles), the two presidents said in the accord.
Kurdish YPG fighters must also leave the Syrian frontier cities of Manbij and Tal Rifat, according to the joint memorandum. The existing situation in the Operation Peace Spring zone covering the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn will be preserved to a depth of 32 kilometers inside Syria, it said.
Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria is coming to an end as a result of the agreement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Russia and Turkey will establish a joint monitoring mechanism to ensure implementation of the accord, he said.
“We will work together with our Russian friends in projects to enable the voluntary return” of refugees to Syria, Erdogan said. “From now on, our main goal is to strengthen the environment of stability,” he said.
(Updates to add Trump tweet in sixth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Abeer Abu Omar, Selcan Hacaoglu and Stepan Kravchenko.
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