Syria's five-day "ceasefire" runs out today
The Kurds will have to make concessions. The agreement asks the YPG or SDF — an American-backed fighting force made up largely of the YPG — to make concessions outside of the current area of conflict. The YPG in the agreement are meant to withdraw from the towns of Manbij and Tal Rifaat.
The deal also implies that the Kurds have a new guarantor. After President Trump effectively abandoned the Kurds, by ordering the sudden withdrawal of US forces from Syria and leaving the YPG exposed to a Turkish advance, that role now falls to the Russians.
Now Moscow will have to deploy more troops and equipment to Syria as part of an expanded mission. But the question remains open: With so few Russian forces on the ground, Syrian Kurds may have little alternative but to allow Syria's Russian-backed military into Kurdish-held areas.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call today that that his government rejects “any occupation of Syria's lands under any pretext,” according to banners on Syrian state news channel Al-Ekhbaria.
Assad also said, “those groups that have separatist goals are the reason for the current situation."
“Syria will continue fighting terrorism and the occupation of Syrian lands with all legitimate means necessary," he added
The biggest geopolitical loser in today's Russia-Turkey deal is the US.
The rapid exit of US forces that left the Kurds exposed was a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin: Russian journalists roaming newly abandoned US military bases played the moment for all it was worth, casting it a hasty helicopters-on-the-roof moment for American power.
Today's deal added to the humiliation. It was Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, who effectively declared that it was time for the Americans to leave Syria.
Shoigu said that US had less than two hours to comply with a ceasefire agreement reached last week between Erdogan and Vice President Mike Pence, a deal that expires at 10 p.m. Moscow time Tuesday. As part of that deal, Pence said the US would withdraw the sanctions that were placed on Turkey last week once a permanent ceasefire is achieved.
The Americans, Shoigu suggested on Tuesday evening, had "one hour and 31 minutes left" to get out of Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in the southern Russian resort city of Sochi today with a shared agenda of shaping the endgame in Syria's eight-year civil war. The two leaders unveiled a 10-point memorandum of understanding.
Here's what's in the agreement:
- The concerns it addresses: Russia and Turkey announced a wide-ranging agreement that addresses a major Turkish concern — the presence of Kurdish YPG forces near their border. But it also acknowledges a major fear of the Kurds — that Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups might unleash a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them and other minority groups.
- The conditions: Under the deal, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will enter the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border from noon tomorrow. Over the next 150 hours, they are to remove the YPG and their weapons, back to 30 km (about 18 miles) from the border. From 6 p.m. local time next Tuesday, the Russian military police and Turkish military will begin patrols along that line to a depth of 32 km (about 20 miles).
- The exceptions: The town of Qamishli will not be included in that 10 km zone, and it was not clear if the agreement applies the entire length of the Turkey-Syrian border, or just the areas where the Syrian Kurds exercised control.
And remember: The deal also acknowledges some facts on the ground: Turkey will keep control of the areas it has taken in their recent military offensive into northern Syria.
Jim Jeffrey, US special envoy for Syria and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, said he was not personally consulted or advised in advance on the decision to pull US troops from northern Syria.
"I was not personally consulted,” Jeffrey said today at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
Asked by Republican Sen. Mitt Romney if he was “advised about the decision to withdraw all US troops following that Erdogan call,” Jeffrey said, "That specific decision, I was not in advance."
Jeffrey reiterated that the US had told Turkey not to proceed with the military offensive, saying the operation was not “inevitable.” He pushed back on questions about the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria being tied to Turkey moving ahead with its military operation.
“Turkey has not really gained all that much from this as I said, but in the process has scrambled the entire northeast, undercut our efforts against ISIS and brought in the Russians and the Syrian regime forces in a way that is really tragic for everybody involved,” he said.
Jeffrey appeared to confirm that there are 14,000 to 18,000 ISIS fighters, who remain at-large, in Iraq and Syria despite claims of victory over ISIS.
Pressed by Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin on war crimes, Jeffrey said that “Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces who are under general Turkish command in at least one instance did carry out a war crime and we have reached out to Turkey to demand an explanation.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia would need to deploy additional troops and equipment to Syria after reaching an agreement with Turkey to establish joint patrols and escort Syrian Kurdish forces away from the border.
“The fact that additional equipment is needed for patrolling is obvious,” Shoigu said, according to Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti. “It’s still a long border, and the patrols should be serious and thorough, so that we don’t to leave any room for some any serious incidents, especially since patrolling will be joint.”
Shoigu also said that US had less than two hours to comply with a ceasefire agreement reached last week between Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, a deal that expires at 10 p.m. Moscow time Tuesday. As part of that deal, Pence said the US would withdraw the sanctions that were placed on Turkey last week once a permanent ceasefire is achieved.
The Russian defense minister suggested the Americans had until the end of a 120-hour deadline to withdraw all their forces and military equipment from Syria.
When the ceasefire ends, "everything that was written in those three items [of the deal] expire,” Shoigu said.
“They had three items, then eleven, saying they would take away all the heavy equipment and would withdraw all combat units," he said.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have withdrawn from "relevant area of operations," according to Vice President Mike Pence's office.
“Today the vice president received a letter from General Mazloum [Abdi] notifying him that all SDF forces have withdrawn from the relevant area of operations. The vice president welcomes this development and sees it as having satisfied the terms of the 17 October agreement, as pertains to the withdrawal of the YPG," Pence's press secretary Katie Waldman said.
What we know: A senior administration official said they were closely watching today's meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recip Tayyip Erdogan.
Russia and Turkey announced earlier today a wide-ranging agreement that would establish joint Russian and Turkish patrols along much of the Turkish and Syrian border within six days .
Russia and Turkey announced a wide-ranging agreement that would establish joint Russian and Turkish patrols along much of the Turkish and Syrian border within six days.
The agreement also demands that the Syrian Kurds withdraw their fighters and weapons about 18 miles away.
The agreement says Russian military police and Syrian border guards will enter the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border from noon Wednesday and, over the next 150 hours, remove the YPG and their weapons, back to 18 miles from the border.
The Russian military police and Turkish military will begin patrols at 6 p.m. next Tuesday, along that line. Qamishli will not be included in the six-mile zone, and it was not clear if the agreement meant the entire Turkey-Syrian border, or just the area where the Syrian Kurds exercised control.
Turkey will keep control of the areas it has taken in their military offensive — between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras Al Ain.
The agreement also asked the YPG or Syrian Kurds/Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to make concession outside of the current area of conflict. In the agreement, the YPG are meant to withdraw from the towns of Manbij and Tal Rifaat.
It remained unclear whether the SDF would agree to this widespread withdrawal or whether it would encompass the Syrian Kurdish population center of Kobani. Russian and regime forces have already entered the city after a Syria Kurdish invitation.
A senior administration official said they were closely watching the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recip Tayyip Erdogan.
They said that the US would be concerned by “any agreement between President Erdogan and President Putin that would undermine the security and stability and current calm that we now have in the far northeast of Syria that we have managed to achieve since last Thursday.”
The comments came before Putin and Erdogan held a press conference.