• Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019
  • Last Update : 01:19 am

Russia warns Kurdish YPG to pull back as its forces move in

  • Published at 01:48 pm October 23rd, 2019
Russia-Syria
A convoy of Russian military vehicles drives toward the northeastern city of Kobani on October 23, 2019 AFP

The police arrival in Kobani marked the start of a period when Russian and Syrian security forces will oversee the removal of YPG fighters and weapons at least 30km into Syria

Russian military police arrived in the strategic Syrian city of Kobani on Wednesday as Moscow warned Kurdish YPG forces that they face further armed conflict with Turkey if they fail to withdraw from Syria's entire north-eastern border.

Russia's warning came a day after it struck an accord with Turkey calling for the complete pullout of the YPG fighters, which were once US allies but which Ankara calls terrorists.

The police arrival in Kobani marked the start of a period when Russian and Syrian security forces will oversee the removal of YPG fighters and weapons at least 30km into Syria, under the deal struck by presidents Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan.

A complete pullout of the YPG would mark a victory for Erdogan, who launched a cross-border offensive on October 9 to drive the Syrian Kurdish militia from the border and create a "safe zone" for the return of Syrian refugees.

Russia's Defence Ministry, quoted by TASS news agency, said the police would help facilitate the YPG withdrawal from Kobani, a border city to the west of Turkey's military operations. It was vacated by US troops after President Donald Trump's abrupt decision this month to pull out.

Kobani is of special significance to the Kurdish fighters, who fought off Islamic State militants trying to seize the city in 2014-15 in one of the fiercest battles of Syria's civil war.

Tuesday's accord, which expands on a US-brokered deal last week, underlines Putin's dominant influence in Syria and seals the return of his ally President Bashar al-Assad's forces to the northeast for the first time in years.

Under the deal, Syrian border guards were to deploy there from 0900 GMT on Wednesday.

Six days later, Russian and Turkish forces will jointly start to patrol a 10km strip of land in northeast Syria where US troops for years had been deployed along with their former Kurdish allies.

Those changes reflect the dizzying pace of changes in Syria since Trump announced the US withdrawal on October 6, shaking up the military balance across a quarter of the country after more than eight years of conflict.

Kurdish militia commanders have yet to respond to the deal reached in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, and it was not immediately clear how their withdrawal could be enforced.

Erdogan said Putin had assured him that YPG fighters would not be allowed to remain in Syria along the Turkish border wearing "regime clothes", according to broadcaster NTV.

Russian warning

The joint Turkish-Russian statement issued after six hours of talks between Putin and Erdogan said they would establish a "joint monitoring and verification mechanism" to oversee implementation of the agreement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was more blunt. If Kurdish forces did not retreat, Syrian border guards and Russian military police would have to fall back. "And remaining Kurdish formations would then fall under the weight of the Turkish army," he said.

In a swipe at Washington, which has called into question how the deal will be guaranteed, Peskov said the United States had betrayed its Kurdish allies.

"Now they the Americans prefer to leave the Kurds at the border and almost force them to fight the Turks," he said in remarks to Russian news agencies.

The Kurdish-led SDF were Washington's main allies in the fight to dismantle Islamic State's self-declared caliphate in Syria. Trump's decision to pull troops out was criticized by US lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, as a betrayal.

In a further sign of growing ties between Ankara and Moscow, which have alarmed Washington, the head of Russia's defence sales agency was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying Moscow could deliver more S-400 missile defence systems to Turkey.

Turkey, a Nato member, has already been frozen out of a programme to buy and help produce F-35 jets and faces possible US sanctions for buying the S-400 systems, which Washington says are incompatible with Nato's defences and threaten the F-35 if operated near the stealth fighter.

Overnight, Turkey's defence ministry said the United States had told Ankara the YPG had completed its withdrawal from the area of Turkey's military offensive.

There was no need to initiate another operation outside the current area of operation at this stage, the ministry said, effectively ending a military offensive that began two weeks ago and drew global criticism.

Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US ambassador to Nato, called on Wednesday for an inquiry into whether war crimes were committed during the offensive.