Russia Begins Ground Patrols in Northeastern Syria

Russian military police forces have begun patrolling Kurdish-majority cities and towns in the Syria-Turkey border, local sources said Thursday.

Russian military vehicles were seen driving along local Kurdish forces through several cities in northeastern Syria, a local reporter told VOA.

"I followed their vehicles from Qamishli to Amuda. The Russian vehicles were accompanied by local security forces [Kurdish forces]," said Ivan Hasib, a photojournalist from northeast Syria.

This comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal to end Turkey's military offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led alliance that has played a major role in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Syria.

The Russian-Turkey deal brought to a halt the Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria that had begun two weeks ago following a decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from the area.

As part of the deal, both sides have agreed to carry out joint patrols in the area to ensure the removal of SDF fighters from the border region.

But local sources said Turkish forces have not yet joined the patrol mission and that the SDF hasn't fully agreed to the Russia-Turkey deal.

"By carrying out these patrols alone, Russia is trying to show Turkey that it is committed to implement their agreement," a local reporter of Syrian state-run al-Akhbariya TV, who requested anonymity, told VOA.

He added that Syrian government forces have some presence in the area and are on high alert for any new developments.

On Wednesday, a VOA reporter spotted a Russian military convoy in the Kurdish city of Kobani. Local sources said Russian military police would be stationed in the town as well.

Russia's defense ministry said Thursday it was sending additional 276 military police officers and 33 armored vehicles to take part in the joint patrols in northeast Syria.

SDF response

Kurdish officials said they have "many reservations" about the Russian-Turkish deal over northeast Syria.

"We have formally sent our response to the Russian government," Mazloum Abdi, SDF general commander, said Thursday during a press conference.

"We were not part of that agreement and so we don't agree to all details mentioned in it," he said.

Abdi noted that while the "SDF appreciates Moscow's efforts to end this conflict, it is important for them to listen to what we have to say about this deal."

Experts say while the situation in northeast Syria is changing rapidly, Russia, a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, wants to have the upper hand in the unfolding crisis.

Russian President Vladimir "Putin wants to end the Syrian crisis on his term with Assad staying in power," said Anna Borshchevskaya, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"He wants a resolution in his term and I think he is now much closer to that resolution," she told VOA.

Mediation

With Syrian military largely depleted after eight years of fighting rebels throughout the country, experts said Russia could strike a deal between Syrian Kurds and Damascus to benefit from SDF's manpower to reassert the Syrian regime's authority in the region.

"Assad's resources are very limited. Even when he was able to get control of a territory, it was very hard for him to hold that territory," analyst Borshchevskaya said.

SDF officials said they have more than 65,000 U.S.-trained local fighters that have gained substantial fighting experience during the war against IS.

Russia "can very well play a mediating role [between Syrian Kurds and Assad] because that doesn't require Putin to extend resources either," Borshchevskaya added.

Source: Voice of America