Oct 22, 2019

Turkey and Russia agree to Syria buffer zone cleared of Kurdish forces

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an agreement on Tuesday to clear Kurdish YPG forces 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the Syrian-Turkish border in order to establish a "safe zone" where Syrian refugees can be resettled.

Why it matters: American influence on the future of Syria is evaporating in real time as U.S. troops withdraw from the country. It's now Turkey and Russia that are attempting to redefine the country's borders and determine the fate of America's Kurdish allies.

The big picture: Turkey launched a military offensive into northern Syria on Oct. 9 after President Trump withdrew U.S. troops from the area. Erdogan has long sought to establish a buffer zone on the Turkish border in order to eliminate the threat from the Syrian YPG, which allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS but is considered by Erdogan to be an extension of the PKK — a Turkish separatist organization.

  • As a result of the Turkish incursion, Kurdish forces turned to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia, for protection.
  • Vice President Mike Pence struck a deal with Erdogan last week to pause Turkey's offensive in northern Syria for 120 hours (five days) so that Kurdish forces can withdraw from the area. That "ceasefire" expires on Tuesday at 3pm ET.
  • As part of the agreement between Putin and Erdogan, YPG forces will withdraw 30 kilometers into Syria within 150 hours.
  • After that, Turkey and Russia will jointly patrol the area, help facilitate the return of Syrian refugees, and "continue to work to find a lasting political solution to the Syrian conflict," per the text of the agreement.

Go deeper ... Trump's Syria strategy: Get out, but "keep the oil"

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Russia and Turkey capitalize on America's Syria exit

Photo: Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Russia today to negotiate the future of northern Syria — highlighting in the process the success of his audacious offensive, Vladimir Putin’s unmatched power in Syria, and America's absence from the table.

Why it matters: American influence in Syria is evaporating in real time as U.S. troops withdraw. It's now Turkey and Russia that are effectively re-defining the country's borders and debating the fate of America's Kurdish allies.

Go deeperArrowOct 22, 2019

Syria's northeast still at risk after "safe zone" deal

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters outside Tal Abyad, Syria. Photo: Bakr Alkasem/AFP via Getty Images

The agreement reached between Russia and Turkey on Tuesday for a "safe zone" 20 miles into northeast Syria secures a goal long sought by Ankara, but the current ceasefire remains fragile and the deal carries challenges of its own.

The big picture: The deal solidifies the diplomatic marginalization of the U.S. in an area where until weeks ago it had been a stabilizing force. Nevertheless, President Trump hailed the agreement as a "huge success" and announced that the U.S. would lift its recent sanctions on Turkey.

Go deeperArrowOct 23, 2019

Trump declares victory in Syria, lifts sanctions on Turkey

President Trump gave a triumphant statement from the White House on Wednesday, claiming despite widespread criticism that while his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria led to a "short-term outburst," it resulted in a "great outcome."

Go deeperArrowOct 23, 2019