The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, announced on Tuesday evening that they have reached an agreement to end the clashes in Northern Syria.
Marking one of the most significant developments to take place in recent weeks, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, announced on Tuesday evening that they reached an agreement regarding the situation in Northern Syria. The two leaders reached the outcome in the city of Sochi after a marathon talks of more than five hours. The agreement was reached just before the 120 hour deadline for the ceasefire between Ankara and Washington expired, with Turkish officials expressing dissatisfaction over the situation and threatening to resume the Operation Spring of Peace.
The agreement stipulates that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and its Syrian National Army (SNA) allies will control a 32 kilometre-wide area between the towns of Tal Abyad/Gire Spi and Ras al-Ain/Serekaniye. Starting at noon on Wednesday, the Russian Military Police and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) will ensure the withdrawal of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the wider Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the Turkish-designated safe-zone. Once this is completed within 150 hours, the TSK and Russian Military Police will run joint patrols east and west of the safe-zone.
So far, Turkish officials have expressed satisfaction with the agreement. During the summit with Putin, Erdoğan expressed concerns that the YPG could remain in the region but received assurances that this will not be the case. However, the case of the Tal Rifaat region which continues to experience skirmishes despite the presence of the SAA seems to challenge such assurances. Regardless, Turkish officials indicated that as a result of the agreement, there is no real need to re-launch the operations. It would appear that the Operation Spring of Peace has, for now, come to an end.
The agreement has been described as a win-win for both Moscow and Ankara. For Moscow, the agreement limits the Turkish operations and influence in Northern Syria while also hemming the SDF in. In the medium-to-long term, Damascus will likely seek to increase its control over the SDF-held areas. With many locals in Deir ez-Zour already expressing hostility to the growing SAA control in Northern Syria, this could be a source of future conflict.
Meanwhile, Ankara has effectively achieved its goals in Northern Syria through the removal of the YPG from the border. Although Turkish officials appear satisfied, similar agreements in the past, such as the aforementioned case of Tal Rifaat, have not ended localised skirmishes and insurgency attacks.
Concern also remains for the thousands of people who were displaced from the Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain regions. Many of these individuals have since sought refuge in other SDF-held areas or have even fled to the neighbouring Iraq. With the SNA now controlling these areas and the SAA standing it between, it remains unclear if these individuals will be able to return to their homes.
The developments in Northern Syria over the past two weeks, within the context of the Operation Spring of Peace and the flurry of diplomatic arrangements between Ankara, Washington and Moscow, highlights the geopolitical fluidity of the region. For many people living in the region, the future remains uncertain.