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Russia patrols will not allow conflict between Turkish, Syrian armies

Russian and Syrian national flags flutter on military vehicles near Manbij, Syria, October 15, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia says its military police units are patrolling along contact line areas between Turkish and Syrian armies near Syria’s flashpoint northern city of Manbij to help avert a possible confrontation following the withdrawal of American troops and the subsequent launch of a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militants in the area.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said the patrols were taking place around Manbij, where Syrian government forces have now been deployed under a deal with authority-seeking Kurdish militants who controlled the area.

“The Syrian government army has full control over the city of Manbij and nearby settlements,” read the statement.

“Russian military police continue to patrol the northwestern border area of Manbij district along the line of contact between the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkish armed forces,” it added. “Cooperation is organized with the Turkish side.”

Russia has made no secret of its outright opposition to Turkey's military incursion into Syria, calling it "unacceptable."

Talking to reporters in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Russian envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, urged Ankara to stick to the terms of the Adana Agreement signed by Ankara and Damascus in 1998, which authorizes Turkey to temporarily push up to a maximum of 10 kilometers into Syria to conduct counter-terrorism operations.

He insisted that Turkish troops do not have the right to remain on Syrian territory permanently.

The AFP cited an unnamed US official as saying that Moscow and Washington were using established channels to avoid conflict.

“The number of Russians is very, very limited. But it only takes a few Russians with a big Russian flag to get everybody to pay attention,” the senior administration official told reporters in Washington. 

Turkey launched the offensive, called Operation Peace Spring, last week with the aim of purging the northern Syrian regions near its border of Kurdish militants, whom it views as terrorists linked to local autonomy-seeking militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The incursion came after the US abruptly pulled its forces out of the region, clearing the path for Turkey to go ahead with a planned military action against Washington’s longtime Kurdish allies.

The developments led the Kurds to reach out to the Damascus government for support, striking an agreement with Syrian troops to enter towns near the border with Turkey.

Syrian government troops entered Manbij on Monday night in order to prevent the city’s fall to the Turkish army and its allied militants.

Ankara has long backed certain militant groups fighting to oust the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Moscow — along with Iran — has been an ally of Damascus in its counter-terrorism operation.

Russia ‘to push for more Syria-Kurds deals’

Speaking in Sochi on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country will encourage the Syrian government and Kurdish militants to reach agreements and implement them.

He also noted that dialogue between two sides had been yielding concrete results, Russia RIA news agency reported.

 Lavrov further emphasized that Syrian and Turkish military forces should work out how to cooperate in northern Syria based on the 1998 Adana Interstate Agreement on Combating Terrorism, expressing Russia’s readiness to help with that cooperation.

The Turkish incursion into Syria had allowed captured members of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group to escape, he pointed out.

Erdogan: Manbij deployment ‘not very negative’

Reacting to the Syrian army’s deployment to Manbij, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he was not bothered.

“The regime (Syrian government) entering Manbij is not very negative for me. Why? It’s their lands after all. But, what is important to me is that the terrorist organization does not remain there,” Erdogan told reporters on a flight back from Baku.

“I told this to [Russian President] Mr [Vladimir] Putin as well. If you are clearing Manbij of terrorist organizations, then go ahead, you or the regime can provide all the logistics. But if you are not going to do this, the people there are telling us to save them,” he added.

Erdogan held a phone conversation with Putin about the situation in Syria.

The Kremlin said late on Tuesday that the two sides had agreed to ensure Syria’s territorial integrity and exchanged views on the need to avoid possible conflict between Turkish and Syrian militaries.

“Vladimir Putin invited Tayyip Erdogan to come to Russia with a working visit in the coming days. The invitation has been accepted,” it said in a statement.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also exchanged views on the situation with his US counterpart Mark Esper in a phone call. The two discussed matters of “mutual interest” relating to the Turkish offensive, the Russian ministry said in a statement.

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