Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, has confirmed a deal between Russia, the Syrian government and the Kurds in Manbij against Turkey and Turkish-backed rebels.
“The detachments of the Syrian army approached the south-west areas of the city of Menbij, which is under control of Kurdish militia groups,” he said.
“Today, the Russian Centre for reconciliation of the opposing sides sent the first humanitarian convoy with food, medicines and items of the first necessity to Menbij,” he added.
Furthermore, the Russian Army confirmed the entry of Syrian army forces to the Syrian Democratic Forces-held areas.
“In addition, since March 3 the Syrian Armed Forces enter the territory occupied by Kurdish militia groups [in reference to SDF] according to the agreements reached with the participation of the command of the Russian grouping of forces in Syria,” General Sergei Rudskoy said.
The general added that the Syrian government is taking measures to resume the work of state authorities in Menbij and surrounding areas.
The SDF-linked Manbij Military Council announced on Thursday that they have reached an agreement with Russia for the protection of the western villages of Manbij from the Turkish army and Turkey-backed rebels, handing over villages in Western Manbij to the Syrian government.
“Defending the civilians and protecting them from the adverse impact of the war, ensuring the security of Manbij and frustrating the invasion plans of the Turkish army against Syrian soil are the goals we have taken for all the peoples living on the lands of Syria,” the Manbij Military Council (MMC) said in a statement.
“In order to realize these goals of ours, we as Manbij Military Council confirm that we have handed over the defense of the line – where villages between the positions of our forces in western Manbij and Turkish-affiliated gangs are located – to Syrian state forces as part of the alliance we have made with Russian officials,” the council said.
“The SDF ceded this territory west of Manbij because it is clear that there are limits to the extent that the United States will intervene on behalf of the SDF’s interests west of the Euphrates,” the statement added.
However, despite of the alleged handover of some villages to the Syrian army, heavy clashes continued on Saturday between the Turkish-led Euphrates Shield rebels and the SDF forces west of Manbij. This makes it unclear whether these areas are handed over to the Syrian government, since clashes are ongoing since Thursday.
“Euphrates Shield forces continue to attack MMC regions. They failed, and a lot of them were killed in recent clashes [about 34 km] west of Manbij,” SDF-spokesperson Sharvan Darwish said on Saturday.
In an interview with ARA News, Nicholas A. Heras, Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), said: “Ceding that territory west of Manbij to Assad’s forces, via a Russian-brokered deal, sends a signal to Turkey that the SDF understands the strategic value of the territory to Euphrates Shield, and will spite Turkey by giving it to Assad.”
“Notably, the SDF has retained territory south and west of Manbij that continues to allow it an access road to Afrin via Assad-controlled areas. Access to Afrin from the area of Manbij is the real strategic prize of this territory for the SDF,” he concluded.
Aaron Stein, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told ARA News that the Syrian Kurds have reached their current autonomous status due to navigating its relations with greater powers.
“The Syrian Kurds are where they are because they manage great power relations. The YPG [Kurdish People’s Protection Units] are nakedly self interested, and have proved quite deft in playing off more powerful actors to their ultimate benefit,” he said.
Lnur Cevik, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan, said at a conference in Russia last week that Turkey would stop its operations after capturing Manbij.
“As soon Manbij is captured, Turkey will stop its operation in Syria,” Cevik said.
However, he also said that Turkey would try to avoid attacking the Syrian army that is protected by the Russian air forces.
“Turkey is not going to go into a confrontation and moving Assad by force. That is why Turkey, Russia and Iran are holding the Astana talks, so, here using force against Assad, I do not think, is on board,” Cevik said.
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News