Russia is trying to prevent a new Turkish offensive against Kurdish militias in northern Syria. According to Arab media reports, the Russian military hopes to convince the “Syrian Democratic Forces” to transfer part of the areas they control to Damascus, while Ankara is strengthening its positions in Syrian territory.
Russia, the Syrian pro-government forces, and the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have agreed to establish three joint posts in the northern part of Raqqa province. This was announced by the Center for Monitoring Human Rights in Syria, close to the opposition. According to him, the first post will be installed in the eastern part of the Ain Isa region (about 55 km north of Raqqa), the second on the M4 motorway, and the third in the western part of the Ain Isa region.
It is alleged that the purpose of the posts is to monitor violations of ceasefire agreements in northern Syria by Turkey.
Recall that back in October 2019, the presidents of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, secured new “zones of influence” in northeastern Syria. Thanks to the Russian-Turkish agreement, the next, already the third military operation of Ankara in northern Syria against the Kurdish “People’s Self-Defense Groups” (YPG), included in the SDF and considered by Turkey to be terrorists, was terminated. According to a memorandum of understanding signed in Sochi, the YPG had to withdraw its forces to a depth of 30 km from the border with Turkey (the division line passed in the areas around the settlements of Ain Isa and Tell Tamer), as well as from the cities of Manbij and Tell Rifat. Russia and Turkey also agreed to jointly patrol an area up to 10 km deep from the border.
Although just a week after the signing of the memorandum, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the early withdrawal of YPG forces from the border, Turkey still considers the agreement with Russia unfulfilled.
At the same time, joint patrols are carried out relatively regularly, although the route, as a rule, affects only part of the “demarcation line”. At the same time, since May 25, the Russian military police and army aviation helicopters have been conducting independent patrols, including escorting civilian vehicles on the section of the M4 highway between the settlements of Ain Isa and Tell Tamer. The last such patrol took place on Monday, just as the Arab media reported the deployment of Russian military police in Ain Isa at several sites along the contact points separating the Turkish army and loyal Syrian factions with the SDF. However, the media have been writing about the arrival of the Russian military in the area, as well as about the strengthening of the Syrian pro-government forces since the end of November.
According to the newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Russian police have set up a base in the center of Ain Isa. The publication claims that Moscow allegedly gave the SDF leadership two days to withdraw its forces from the M4 highway, including from Ain Isa, and transfer these areas under the control of Damascus (officially, the Russian state structures do not comment on this information in any way). However, almost immediately it became known about the intention of the Kurds to reject Moscow’s proposals, since “Turkey and its loyal groups asked Russia to withdraw SDF fighters from a distance of 32 km, and Ain Isa is located about 37 km from the Turkish border.”
Moreover, from the point of view of the Kurds, it was the Turks who were the first to violate the Sochi memorandum.
In mid-November, Turkish artillery shelled several areas in the north of Raqqa province. On November 19, it became known about the creation of a new military base by the Turks 2 km from Ain Isa. Five days later, two explosions thundered in the security zone controlled by the Turkish troops – in the Al-Bab area (44 km from Aleppo) and Afrin (65 km from Aleppo). At least five fighters of the pro-Turkish formations were killed, more than 20 were injured. From that moment on, the fighting north of Raqqa and Haseki practically did not stop. In early December, SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel warned of Ankara’s plans to launch a new operation against the Kurds in northern Syria and expand its controlled territory. He also expressed disappointment that Washington, whose ally is the SDF, has not responded in any way to the increasing Turkish attacks. Notably, the SDF took Ain Isa in mid-2015 with the support of an international coalition led by the United States. SDF training bases are located in this area, in addition, being in Ain Ise allows control of the M4 highway from Aleppo to the border with Iraq. According to Arab media reports, the Kurds are trying to simultaneously gain the support of both Washington and Moscow. However, Russia has repeatedly warned the Kurdish forces that it can guarantee their protection only if the territory is transferred under the control of Damascus.
“Moscow is interested in avoiding friction with Ankara,” RIAC expert Kirill Semenov told Kommersant. Moscow across Idlib, reached in March. In addition, it is more difficult for Russia to prevent the advance of Turkey and its loyal opposition forces in northern Syria than for Ankara to stop a possible response from the Syrian army with the support of Moscow in Idlib.