Russia and Turkey Present New Deal for Syria After Six Hours of Talks and U.S. Exit

Russia and Turkey have presented a new arrangement for northern Syria after the six-hour talks between their leaders that accompanied the end to a fragile ceasefire and a U.S. military withdrawal from the area. The result would be yet another shift in control for towns and cities facing a new front in the multi-sided conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged from their lengthy discussions at the Black Sea city of Sochi to present a new memorandum of understanding designed to prevent new bloodshed as Turkey and allied Syrian rebels battled Kurdish-led forces backed by the U.S. against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) but not the NATO nation north of Syria. After presenting their remarks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov read out the terms of their 10-point agreement.

Both sides reiterated their commitment to battling terrorism, separatism and any attempts to undermine the territorial integrity of Syria, a nation ravaged by more than eight years of a civil war in which Moscow backed the government and Ankara supported an insurgency. As far as the current situation on the ground, Russia and Turkey first agreed to maintain the status quo, recognizing a 20-mile "safe zone" controlled by Turkey's invasion between the border cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.

At a depth of just more than 18 miles along the rest of the border, both east and west of this area, joint Russian and Syrian military police would help facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) for the next 150 hours. Then, joint Russian and Turkish patrols would deploy within roughly six miles of the border to monitor the situation.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, October 22. ALEXEI DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

Prior to their joint press conference, the two men were seen in a separate room sitting across from one another alongside an interpreter. In front of the Turkish leader was a map of Syria, which he quickly put away as the cameras entered and Putin gestured.

That same day, NBC News cited four unnamed officials as saying that Fox News analyst Jack Keane had twice, once alongside Senator Lindsey Graham, visited the White House to show President Donald Trump a map of Syria. The retired general reportedly hoped to indicated the importance of eastern oil fields that, in the event of a total U.S. exit, may be ceded by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces back to the Syrian government, an ally of not only Russia but Iran as well.

The U.S. has made a top priority out of severing Iran's trade ties since the Trump administration pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal still supported by China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. As ISIS was defeated in separate campaigns led by the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian government, Washington has again sought to recalibrate its Syria mission to counter Iran-backed forces backing Damascus.

As Trump shored up U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf region with thousands of more troops in the likes of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the president has largely pulled out of northern Syria, seeking no role in a fight between Turkey and the Kurdish-led forces it accused of harboring separatist terrorists. The move has led the Syrian Democratic Forces, largely comprised of the YPG, to strike a deal with the government, allowing Syrian and Russian troops to take up outposts once occupied by the U.S.

The Turkish-led operation has led to violent clashes across the border region, with a recent, 150-hour U.S. ceasefire⁠—adamantly called a "pause" by Turkey⁠—only barely holding back the fighting. This agreement, the terms of which were presented in a conflicting manner by the warring parties, was set to expire Tuesday, after which the new deal brokered by Russia and Turkey would presumably succeed it.

Under the terms of the previous U.S.-Turkey agreement, the YPG agreed to being withdrawing from the "safe zone" between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. It was so far unclear where these fighters have gone, or where other YPG posted elsewhere to the border would go under the terms of the Russia-Turkey agreement.

syria military kurds ypg border turkey
Syrian soldiers climb up an electrical pole with the Syrian government national flag and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) flag, along with a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, by the Turkish border in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, in the north of Aleppo governorate on October 18, with the Yellow-Red-Green Kurdish Rojava flag seen on a mast in the background. A new deal between Russia and Turkey would see the return of Syrian troops to the border and the withdrawal of YPG forces. AFP/Getty Images

The return of Syrian troops to areas outside the "safe zone" would likely exclude the possibility of these regions falling under Turkish-backed insurgent control, potentially restoring Assad's control of most of the roughly third of the country still outside of his rule. The only majority-opposition-controlled province was located in the northwest in Idlib, where Assad himself visited the frontlines earlier Tuesday.

In an apparent reference to working with Kurdish-led forces, the Syrian leader told troops that his administration had "to communicate with different political and military forces present on the ground" in order to prevent a Turkish invasion. Assad has been accused by the U.S. and its allies of committing war crimes in opposition-held areas, but has demonstrated a willingness to work with Kurdish-led forces so long as they did not seek self-rule.

"We said we are ready to support any group that takes up popular resistance against Erdogan and Turkey," Assad said. "This is not a political decision, we have not made a political decision, this is a constitutional duty and this is a national duty."

"If we don't do this," he added. "We don't deserve the homeland."

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A map shows territorial control in Syria by faction as of October 7, according to IHS Markit via BBC, with the uncolored Golan Heights in the southwest under Israeli control since 1967. Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have since made gains across the central section of the northern border as Syrian government troops came to the assistance of formerly U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces.

Source: Statista