Russia says its military police units are patrolling between Turkish and Syrian forces near Syria’s flashpoint northern city of Manbij to help avoid confrontation between the two sides following the withdrawal of American troops and the subsequent 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 the city Manbij, which was recently retaken by Syrian government forces under a deal with Kurdish militants.
“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.”
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, which Ankara 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 the mission against Washington’s longtime Kurdish allies in the region.
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.
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 conflicts between Turkish and Syrian military.
“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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