- Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
- Russia and Turkey on Tuesday reached an agreement that would expand their control in Syria and minimize Kurdish territory.
- The deal between the two powers follows a US decision earlier this month to withdraw its remaining troops in Syria.
- Here are the winners and losers from the agreement, and what it means for the region’s future.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Russia and Turkey on Tuesday reached an agreement that would expand their control in Syria and minimize Kurdish territory as the US begins to withdraw its troops from the country.
The 10-point memorandum was signed between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday.
As part of the deal, which will go into effect at noon on Wednesday, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will enter the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border, and will push the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their weapons back to 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border.
Under the agreement, the area, currently under Kurdish control, will soon be patrolled by Russian and Turkish military forces. It will be transformed into a “safe zone,” or buffer, between Turkey and Kurdish forces.
According to the BBC, Kurdish groups have yet to confirm whether they agree to the deal.
Turkey and Russia both hailed the agreement as “historic.” Critics like Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the US has now “been sidelined” as a decision-maker in the conflict.
“Russia and the murderous Assad regime are calling the shots,” Menendez said at a hearing on Tuesday.
Here are the winners and losers from the agreement.
Winner: Putin and Russia
Putin has emerged in the agreement as one of the main power brokers in the fate of Syria’s future, taking over the role the US once held.
The agreement between Putin and Erdogan may seem surprising, given that Russia backed the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Turkey supported rebel groups fighting against the regime.
But the agreement between the two world powers strengthens their influence in Syria as the country tries to rebound after years of civil war.
According to CNN, Putin said Ankara and Moscow have agreed to respect Syria’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” which can be framed as a successful foreign policy move by Russia.
Analysts told The Washington Post that the deal also helps Russia’s ally, Assad, in regaining control over more of the fragmented country.
Assad also “expressed his full support” for the deal, the Kremlin said, according to the BBC.
Winner: Erdogan and Turkey
The biggest winner in this deal is Erdogan’s Turkey, which considers Kurdish forces in Syria to be a threat because of their association with the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, which has long fought an armed conflict for independence against Turkey.
Turkey has previously expressed concern that the US was arming its long-standing enemy. Erdogan successfully pushed Trump to pull out the remaining US troops in the region during a phone call earlier this month.
When Trump announced the withdrawal of the remaining US troops, Turkey waged a brutal offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria.
Turkey has also been able to expand a buffer zone along its border, which Erdogan has said will be used to resettle more than 1 million Syrian refugees displaced by the war.
In effect, Turkey has been able to get exactly what it wanted in terms of securing a “safe zone” along its border, while also skirting US sanctions threatened but later withdrawn by President Donald Trump last week.
Turkey and the US agreed to a 5-day ceasefire on October 17, with the US agreeing not to pursue further sanctions in exchange.
Loser: Kurdish-led forces
- REUTERS/Rodi Said
Though the Kurds have yet to explicitly agree to the deal, they are left with a difficult decision: Fight an intensifying assault from Turkey, or concede defeat and give up land they now control.
Beyond the area along the Turkish border, the Russian-Turkish agreement also demands the YPG to withdraw from the towns of Manbij and Tal Rifaat, which lay outside of the agreed “safe zone.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Mazloum Abdi, the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), wrote in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday that the SDF had completed their withdrawal from the Turkish “safe zone,” though neither the Kurds nor Turkey has officially confirmed this information.
A senior US official told the Journal that the agreement between Turkey and Russia meant that Turkey was entitled to use force against the Kurds if they are discovered inside the “safe zone.”
“If the Turks can find any inside the safe zone … the Turks will either let us know or they will shoot them.”
Loser: Trump and the US
- Win McNamee
The deal has shown that the US has essentially forfeited its clout in the region, as Turkey and Russia conduct negotiations amongst themselves.
Though the US has not given a clear deadline for the withdrawal of its troops, the deal solidified that it is now beyond the US to make these kind of decisions.
As the ceasefire agreement between the US and Turkey was set to expire, Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, suggested on Tuesday evening that the US had “one hour and 31 minutes left” to exit Syria, CNN said.
A senior US official told The Wall Street Journal that the Trump administration was still reviewing options for leaving troops in Syria, though US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters on Saturday that most US troops in Syria will soon be moved to neighboring Iraq to prevent a resurgence by the Islamic State.
“Humiliation doesn’t begin to cover what the US forces are feeling right now,” one coalition military official told Business Insider.