Russian president says all illegal forces must leave Syria amidst Kurdish-Damascus deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his first statement following the US withdrawal and the Kurds striking a deal with Damascus, underlined that all foreign forces must leave the country.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his first statement following the US withdrawal and the Kurds striking a deal with Damascus, underline that all foreign forces must leave the country.

“There is always hope. Do not ever give it up. I can only agree with you that all the forces deployed illegitimately inside any sovereign state – in this case, Syria – must leave,” he told Arabic media, according to Russia Today.

“This is true for everyone. If Syria’s new legitimate government chooses to say that they have no more need for Russia’s military presence, this will be just as true for Russia.”

However, Putin said he would also discuss this with Iran and Turkey, and stressed that the “territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic must be completely restored.”

Reuters reported that the Kremlin on Monday suggested they do not want to entertain the possibility of a clash in Syria between Russian and Turkish forces and are in regular contact with Ankara.

Anna Borshchevskaya, a Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute, argued Kurdistan 24 that from the beginning, Turkey carried out operations in Syria with Moscow’s approval.

“A long time ago, [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan used to say that Assad must go, but he has long since come over to Moscow’s position on Assad, in exchange for Moscow’s agreement to Turkish incursions.” 

“It’s not entirely inconceivable Moscow may try to force Turkey at some point out of Syria, but it would come down to what leverage Putin would have on Erdogan over this. In the past, they made ad-hoc deals as it became necessary, so I think they will continue to do so.”

She also noted it is unlikely President Putin would clash with Turkey over deals between the Syrian government and the Kurds.

“Putin’s hall mark is presenting himself as a mediator to everyone in the region, someone who can talk to all sides, so I think he’s going to try to do that,” she added. 

Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, asserted to Kurdistan 24 that Russia does not want to be involved in a conflict in northern Syria “if there is no guarantee that the US leaves the country.”

He underlined that Moscow wants the “SDF transferring its allegiance from the US to Assad.”

On Monday, reports broke that Turkey had launched an offensive on Manbij. The same day, Erdogan suggested Russia had also given the green light for an attack on Kobani. This might indicate that Russia wanted to first soften up the Kurds for a deal with Damascus 

“There is every reason to believe that a weakened SDF benefits Russia and one of the easiest ways for Russia to assure that outcome is to allow Turkey to weaken the SDF with further military action,” he argued.

Kirill Krivosheev, foreign desk correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, suggested there might be a deal in the future between Turkey and Syria, once the conflict settles down.

Krivosheev claimed that the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Oct. 9 sent a note to the Syrian consulate in Istanbul.

“The cries for “war” are loud, but Erdogan is taking steps to accept the al-Assad rule. The situation in internal Turkish politics shows that all the opposition parties want it. And Erdogan could slightly seize the initiative on this.”

Editing by Nadia Riva