Russia sent about 300 more military police and more than 20 armoured vehicles to Syria on Friday under an accord between Ankara and Moscow that has halted Turkey’s military incursion into northeastern Syria.
The deal, sealed on Tuesday by presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, requires that Russian military police and Syrian border guards remove all Kurdish YPG militia from within 30 kilometres of the Turkish border by next Tuesday.
The military police, from the southern Russian region of Chechnya, will help with the withdrawal of Kurdish forces and their weapons to 30 kilometres of the Syrian-Turkish border, Interfax news agency reported the defence ministry as saying.
Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish militants who have waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984.
Turkey launched its offensive against the Kurds on Oct. 9 after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered U.S. forces out of northeast Syria. Ankara halted its assault under a U.S.-brokered ceasefire that called for a YPG withdrawal from the border area. The Putin-Erdogan deal built on and widened that agreement.
“The deployment of our forces and hardware as well as the forces and hardware of the Syrian border guards is currently taking place in the delineated zones,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
He repeated a warning that if Kurdish YPG forces did not withdraw from the border region they would be crushed by Turkey’s armed forces.
Under the terms of the deal, from next Tuesday Russian and Turkish forces will start to patrol a narrower, 10-kilometre strip of land on the Syrian side of the border where U.S. 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 less than three weeks after Trump began pulling U.S. forces out of northeast Syria.
It has also highlighted a growing security relationship between Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and now the dominant power inside Syria, and NATO member Turkey.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accused Turkey on Thursday of launching a large land offensive targeting three villages in northeast Syria despite a truce, but Russia said the peace plan was going ahead smoothly.
Medical services needed
However, Doctors Without Borders reported that shelling in the village of Janoudia in northwestern Syria on Thursday resulted in a “mass casualty influx,” when 17 people were rushed to a hospital supported by the organization.
Three of the patients were under 14 years of age, the organization said in a statement, which also reported four deaths among the casualties.
“The need for medical services in northwestern Syria is extremely high,” the statement said. “Beyond the direct victims of the conflict — often from aerial bombing or shelling — there are huge needs for more than a million people who have fled areas of fighting over the past months and years.”
There were no reports of fresh clashes in northeast Syria on Friday. 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-Ayn, near where the three villages are located.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in Brussels for a meeting of NATO ministers on Friday, said the United States would maintain a reduced military presence in Syria to prevent ISIS from seizing its oil fields and revenues.
Washington will keep “some mechanized forces” in Deir al-Zor, Syria’s oil region east of the Euphrates, Esper said.