Russian military police started patrols in northern Syria under a new deal with Turkey that took effect on Wednesday to push back Syrian Kurdish militias from the border.
The Russian Defence Ministry said that forces crossed the Euphrates River “and moved towards the Syrian-Turkish border.” Kurdish sources said Russian troops were inside the Syrian border city of Kobane, which lies east of the river.
Turkey has not confirmed any of its own troop movements.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a deal to share control of north-eastern Syrian border areas.
Syrian Kurdish militias have 150 hours, starting from noon (0900 GMT) Wednesday, to vacate the border zone.
“The remaining Kurdish units will be crushed by the Turkish military machine,” warned Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to state news agency TASS.
Turkey will retain control of the area it seized during the incursion it launched on Oct. 9, after U.S. troops withdrew.
This territory between the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain is about 100 kilometres long.
“That doesn’t mean we are there to stay.
“Syria is the real owner of these (areas). We are not an occupation army,” Erdogan told reporters, according to embargoed comments released to Turkish media after the clock started on the new deal.
Earlier on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that joint Turkish-Russian patrols “will take place without a time limitation … and within the depth of 10 kilometres” from the border.
He said that the joint patrols would start in Kobane and extend to the Iraqi border after the 150-hour deadline.
Russian state media cited a military source as saying that Russian forces had also started to patrol an area north-east of the northern city of Manbij, west of the Euphrates.
The agreement between Ankara and Moscow, sealed after more than six hours of talks between Erdogan and Putin in Sochi, leaves a NATO member and a main military backer of the Syrian government in control of territory once held by the Syrian Kurdish forces, who were backed by the U.S.
According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, it is too soon to determine whether Turkey and Russia’s agreement on joint patrols in north-eastern Syria will be helpful in bringing peace to the region.
“I think it is a bit too early to judge the consequences the outcome of the statement, the agreement between (Turkish) President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan and (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday.
The NATO leader welcomed last week’s ceasefire deal between Turkey and the U.S. for bringing about a significant reduction in violence and “something we can build on as we strive for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria.”
Stoltenberg stressed the “urgent need for a political solution” to the conflict.
Turkey’s widely criticised incursion into Syria will be discussed at a NATO defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.