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Turkey and Russia to discuss removal of Kurdish militia from Syrian towns

October 20, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Members of Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in Syria on 17 October 2019 [Turkish Armed Force/Anadolu Agency]

Turkey and Russia will discuss the removal of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from the northern Syrian towns of Manbij and Kobani during talks in Sochi next week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday, as reported by Reuters.

Turkey paused its military offensive into northeastern Syria after President Tayyip Erdogan agreed on Thursday, in talks with US Vice President Mike Pence, a five-day ceasefire to allow the YPG to withdraw from a “safe zone” Ankara aims to establish near its border.

The truce is also aimed at easing a crisis triggered by US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision this month to withdraw all 1,000 US troops from northern Syria, a move criticised in Washington and elsewhere as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who had fought for years alongside US troops against Daesh.

But Trump’s move also means the extent of Turkey’s ambitions in the region is likely to be determined by Russia and Iran, who both support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and are looking to fill the vacuum created by the US retreat.

Read: Erdogan announces evacuation of Kurdish fighters from safe zone in northern Syria

Assad has already deployed his forces in territory formerly protected by Washington, invited by the Kurds. Erdogan, who has backed rebels fighting to oust Assad, has said Turkey has no problem with Syrian government forces deploying near the border.

Speaking at an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7 on Sunday, Cavusoglu said urgent talks between Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin would be held next week.

“We will discuss the removal of the YPG terrorists from our borders, namely Manbij and Kobani, with the Russians,” Cavusoglu said, adding:

We believe we can reach an agreement with them to work together in the future, just like we have before.

Ankara regards the YPG, the main component of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey. The YPG has been a close US ally in the fight against Daesh.

The SDF and Damascus struck a deal this month to counter the Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria, prompting Syrian army forces to deploy in Manbij and Kobani, towns of strategic importance given their location on the Syrian border with Turkey.

While Erdogan and Putin have forged close ties over defence and energy cooperation, Moscow has said the Turkish offensive into Syria was “unacceptable” and should be limited.

Erdogan on Saturday said he would also discuss Syrian army deployment in northern Syria with Putin, saying the two needed to find a solution to the matter. But he warned that “we will continue to implement our own plans” if a solution could not be reached, without elaborating.

Russian officials had spoken to Assad on Friday about the need to de-escalate the situation in northeast Syria, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.

Read: Trump warned Erdogan in letter: ‘Don’t be a tough guy’ or ‘a fool’