Russia, Turkey Agree to Remove Kurds From Turkey-Syria Border

October 22, 2019 Updated: October 22, 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to create a buffer zone in northern Syria and will remove Kurdish fighters along the border.

After several hours of talks, the two leaders said a “safe zone” would be implemented in northeastern Syria, and they would initiate joint patrols in the area. The announcement comes days after Turkey incurred into northern Syria on Oct. 9 to remove Kurdish fighters that it has described as “terrorists” from the area.

According to the deal, starting on Oct. 23, Russian forces and Syrian border guards will “facilitate the removal of [Kurdish] YPG elements and their weapons to the depth” of 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Turkish–Syrian border.

Turkish soldiers and Turkey-backed Syrian fighters gather on the northern outskirts of the Syrian city of Manbij near the Turkish border on Oct. 14, 2019. (Zein Al Rifai/AFP via Getty Images)

After five days, Russian and Turkish patrols “will start in the west and the east of the area of Operation Peace Spring with a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), except Qamishli city,” stated a memorandum of understanding between the two nations.

Russia and Turkey, it added, will also work to contain “terrorist elements” from springing up in the area. The memorandum didn’t elaborate.

Syrian government forces raise a national flag and an image of President Bashar al-Assad at Tabqa airbase in northern Syria’s Raqa region on Oct. 16, 2019.  (AFP via Getty Images)

The YPG, the key component in the Syrian Democratic Forces that have for years fought alongside U.S. troops against ISIS, will also leave the towns of Tel Rifaat and Manbij under the deal, Reuters reported.

“This operation also guarantees Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity … We never had any interest in Syria’s land and sovereignty,” Erdogan said at the press conference. “The main aim of the operation is to take out PKK/YPG terror organizations from the area and to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees,” he remarked.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also confirmed the leaders came to an agreement.

Civilians flee with their belongings amid Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on Oct. 9, 2019. (Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images)

The move comes about two weeks after the White House announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the border area, precipitating Turkey’s incursion into the Syrian border region. However, U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said President Donald Trump is prepared to use military force again.

“We prefer peace to war,” Pompeo said on Oct. 21. “But in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action.”

Trump told reporters at a cabinet meeting that the United States “never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.

“We’re not going to take a position. Let them fight themselves,” Trump said, referring to the Turkish–Kurdish conflict.

On Oct. 21, Trump authorized $4.5 million in direct support to the Syria Civil Defense to continue its “important and highly valued work” in Syria.

“The United States encourages our allies and partners to join us in our support for the SCD and in our efforts to protect civilians, religious and ethnic minorities, and other innocent victims of the Syrian conflict,” according to a White House statement.