Breaking News: Turkey and Russia Reach Agreement on Syria
After months of escalating tensions and military clashes in Syria, Turkey and Russia have announced a new agreement to ease the conflict and address some of the key issues dividing them. The deal, brokered by the leaders of the two countries, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin, aims to create a buffer zone and a joint patrol system in northern Syria, where Turkish forces have been fighting Kurdish militants and Syrian government troops supported by Russia.
The Turkish-Russian agreement, which was announced on October 22, 2019, has several main provisions that could have significant implications for the future of Syria and the wider Middle East region. Here are some of the key points to know:
– The agreement establishes a safe zone in northeast Syria, stretching for 32 kilometers (20 miles) south of the Turkish border and about 440 kilometers (275 miles) long. This area will be cleared of Kurdish fighters affiliated with the People`s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers` Party (PKK). The YPG, however, has been a key ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group and has controlled most of the region since 2012. The removal of the YPG from the safe zone would require their withdrawal to a depth of 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the border within 150 hours from the start of the agreement, which began on October 23, 2019.
– The safe zone will be jointly patrolled by Turkish and Russian military police, starting from the 150th hour of the agreement, for a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles) into the Syrian territory. This will prevent any clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces, which have occurred in recent weeks, as well as limit the influence of other external actors such as Iran and the United States, which have pursued their own agendas in Syria. The joint patrols will also aim to restore normal life and services to the local population, including the return of refugees who fled the violence.
– The agreement includes provisions on the resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey to the safe zone, while respecting their dignity, safety, and voluntary return. This could alleviate some of the burden on Turkey, which hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and has faced domestic pressure to address their integration and welfare. However, the details of the resettlement plan are still unclear, and some critics have warned that it could lead to demographic engineering and ethnic cleansing, as well as the displacement of other vulnerable groups such as Arab and Yazidi minorities. The UN and other international organizations have called for a strict adherence to the principles of non-refoulement and protection of human rights.
– The agreement reaffirms the commitment of Turkey and Russia to the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and unity of Syria, as well as the respect for the Astana and Sochi agreements, which were previous frameworks for the de-escalation of the conflict in Syria. This sends a message to other actors that any attempt to partition or carve up Syria would not be tolerated by the two main powers in the region. It also reflects the pragmatic approach of both Turkey and Russia, which have sought to balance their interests in Syria, including energy, security, and geopolitical influence, with their respective ties to NATO and Iran.
The Turkish-Russian agreement on Syria is a significant development that could help reduce the violence in one of the most complex and bloody conflicts in recent history. While it has received varied reactions from different parties, including the US, the EU, the Syrian government, and the Kurdish groups, the deal represents a possible path towards a more stable, inclusive, and peaceful future for Syria and its neighbors. However, it also poses some challenges and risks, such as the sustainability of the safe zone, the coordination of the patrols, and the potential backlash from the YPG and other spoilers. Therefore, the implementation of the Turkish-Russian agreement will require sustained efforts, diplomatic skills, and resources from all parties involved, as well as the support of the international community.