Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – With Trump and his special operations troops out of Syria, it fell to Russia to deal with Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria to push back from its border the leftist Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Trump has not only become irrelevant, but the troops formerly stationed in Syria now seem to be Flying Dutchmen, wandering the earth without a home. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had said they would be based in western Iraq, but Baghdad immediately announced that they had no such permission.
Turkey had planned an incursion to the depth of 20 miles along a 276-mile stretch of northeast Syria, from which it planned to expel hundreds of thousands of Kurdish residents and replace them with Syrian Arab refugees from elsewhere in Syria, who now live in Turkey. That is a little over 5,500 square miles.
Instead, Turkey will keep for a while a 75-mile long stretch between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, to a depth of 20 feet down into Syria. That is only 1500 square miles.
On either side of the miniaturized Turkish “safe zone” (i.e. zone of ethnic cleansing), the Russian army will patrol alongside Turkish troops over in Turkey, with Syrian Arab Army troops taking over security duties in the Kurdish areas south of the border.
This outcome is an enormous climb-down by Turkey in the face of Russian insistence.
Map of the Turkish – Russian agreement in northern Syria. pic.twitter.com/tO7EW9o3FC
— On the Ground News (@OGNreports) October 23, 2019
What Turkey did get was a pledge of a sort of demilitarized zone along the 275-mile stretch, from which YPG fighters would pull back with their weapons over the next week or so. But the Kurdish villagers apparently won’t have to leave, and the YPG will be replaced by Syrian Arab Army troops and Russian gendarmes. So the planned ethnic cleansing has been reduced to about one fifth of what Erdogan had in mind.
The Russo-Turkish agreement does make Syria and Russia implicitly responsible for ensuring that no YPG fighters cross to Turkey to support terrorist operations by radical Turkish Kurds of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The Turkish press maintains that this happens all the time, but I haven’t seen any credible proof of it. I think when the US was embedded with the YPG, they would have noticed such terrorist strikes by their guys. In my view, Ankara is just paranoid about Kurds and has unfairly lumped the Syrian-Kurdish YPG with the Turkish-Kurdish PKK. The latter have certainly been guilty of terrorism, but the former lost 10,000 men fighting ISIL terrorists, something Turkey was unwilling to step up and do.
This Russo-Turkish deal emphasizes that Russia is the real hegemon in Syria, and Turkey is a bit player that is being allowed to keep a small part of what they wanted on sufferance.
The Turkish ministry of defense announced that its military operations in (i.e. invasion of) Syria is over with.
My guess is that over time, Russia will force Turkey entirely back out.