Russia says Kurds complete withdrawal from Turkish border
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s defense ministry said Tuesday that tens of thousands of Syrian Kurdish fighters have completed their withdrawal from areas along the Syrian border, in line with a recent Russia-Turkey deal.
Separately, a Russian military statement said an explosive device went off close to Russian armored vehicles near the Darbasiyah border checkpoint, but there were no injuries or damage.
Last week’s Russia-Turkey deal divides control of northeast Syria and has halted a Turkish invasion of the area. Ankara aimed to drive out Syrian Kurdish forces there.
The Kurdish-led forces had been U.S. allies during a five-year campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria. But U.S. forces withdrew from the area, allowing the Turkish offensive. The Kurds have since turned to Russia and the Syrian government in Damascus for protection.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russian and Syrian troops have moved into the border zone following the Kurdish withdrawal, which he said had been completed ahead of Tuesday’s 3 p.m. GMT deadline.
Ankara has threatened to resume its offensive if the Kurdish militias did not retreat.
The Russian military in Syria said in a statement that 68 Kurdish units numbering the total of 34,000 fighters had pulled 30 kilometers (19 miles) back from the border in accordance with the Russia-Turkey deal.
Moscow and Ankara have agreed that Turkey gets to retain control over the areas it seized when it launched its offensive on Oct. 9. Russian and Syrian troops will control the rest of the frontier.
The Russian military in Syria said that Syrian border guards set up 84 checkpoints on the border with Turkey.
Russia and Turkey are set to conduct joint patrols in areas to the east and west of the Turkish-held parts of the border area.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russia has informed Turkey that Syrian Kurdish fighters have “completely been removed” from the areas in northeast Syria. Erdogan said Turkey would hold further talks as of Wednesday, without elaborating.
Earlier Tuesday, Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun tweeted that his country’s forces would verify whether the Syrian Kurdish fighters had withdrawn once those joint patrols begin.
Erdogan also took a swipe at the U.S. decision to send armored vehicles and combat troops into eastern Syria to protect oil fields there, even as American troops are withdrawn from the country.
Erdogan did not mention the U.S. directly, but said recent developments had shown that the “priority goals” of all countries involved in Syria — apart from Turkey — was to take control of the country’s oil resources.
“The only country to see human lives and brothers, and not the opportunity for grabbing oil or power when it looks at Syria, is Turkey,” Erdogan said.
The U.S. has justified moving troops to oil-right areas of Syria, saying it’s keeping the fields from potentially falling into the hands of IS militants.