Have Syria’s Turkish-Russian patrols achieved goals?
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
On April 6, Turkey and Russia conducted a joint military patrol consisting of eight military vehicles that roamed the villages of the northern countryside of al-Hasakah and reached the outskirts of the town of Abu Rasin, as monitored by Enab Baladi’s correspondent in the northeastern governorate.
The patrol, which came without an official announcement by both sides, according to what was reported by local news accounts, began after a break of weeks and coincided with the decrease in the frequency of joint patrols in general, especially after the military escalation in northern Syria, following an aerial bombardment campaign launched by Turkey against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in areas of the governorates of al-Hasakah, Raqqa, and Aleppo at the end of 2022.
The repeated military escalation had a negative impact on the conduct of these military patrols agreed upon between Turkey and Russia years ago, most of which are concentrated in the northern part of Syria, so what is the need for joint patrols, and have they achieved their goals?
Route of Turkish-Russian patrols
The joint patrols between Russia and Turkey usually cover two main areas in northern and eastern Syria, according to Enab Baladi’s reporter monitoring the movement of these patrols, in addition to official announcements by the Turkish and Russian Ministries of Defense.
The Turkish forces enter from the crossing of the village of Shirk, west of the town of Darbasiyah, to meet there with the Russian forces coming either from their military base at Qamishli airport or from their base east of Tal Tamr (formerly al-Mabaqer complex), according to Enab Baladi’s reporter.
The patrol takes a route that crosses the villages of the southern countryside, most notably the towns of Darbasiyah and Amuda, and sometimes reaches the northwestern countryside of Abu Rasin, where the lines of contact between the SDF and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), only to turn back after that.
These patrols often consist of several armored vehicles, divided equally between the Russian and Turkish armies, and accompanied by two military helicopters from the Russian side, which was monitored by Enab Baladi’s reporter in al-Hasakah over the past months.
While the second patrol area is located east of the city of Qamishli in the eastern countryside of al-Hasakah, as the Turkish forces enter the area from the Deir Ghosn crossing north of the town of al-Jawadiya, and meet with the Russian forces coming from Qamishli.
This patrol usually roams the villages and towns located on the border strip from Qamishli, passing through al-Qahtaniyya and al-Jawadiya, until it reaches the northern countryside of Ma’badah and Rumailan.
Sometimes the Turkish forces were absent from the implementation of the joint patrol, only to be completed by the Russian forces, accompanied by the SDF forces.
The patrol may reach the border triangle at the village of Ayn Dewar (the farthest border point in northeastern Syria), northeast of the town of al-Malikiyah.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian Reconciliation Center has stopped issuing its daily reports and briefings on the field situation, which include conducting joint military patrols in Syria.
The Russian Reconciliation Center has been issuing daily and monthly reports on joint patrols since 2016.
In March 2022, the last report of the Russian Ministry of Defense was posted on its official Facebook account, while the reports that had been received through the official ministry’s website since 2019 were interrupted, and the news received from the Reconciliation Center was limited to statements by its officials, reported by Russian agencies and media.
The Turkish Ministry of Defense stopped, more than a year ago, announcing the patrols in which it participates and still does.
The goal of joint patrols
Anas Shawakh, a researcher at the Jusoor Center for Studies, told Enab Baladi that conducting these patrols over the past years aimed to monitor the movements of the SDF near the Turkish-Syrian border, mainly to ensure the withdrawal of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members and leaders from the border area, in implementation of Russian-Turkish agreements.
These patrols were interrupted from time to time for many reasons, most notably the recurrence of the military escalation in the region between Turkey and the SDF and sometimes due to bad weather conditions.
A previously scheduled patrol was also canceled due to the Feb.6 earthquake that struck northern Syria and southern Turkey, according to Shawakh.
The researcher at Jusoor Center added that the reason for the continuation of the work of these patrols in the region comes primarily from confirmation by the participating parties of the continued validity of the Sochi agreement, which stipulated a reduction of escalation in Syria, and Turkey maintaining a minimum level of monitoring the activity of Kurdish groups in the Syrian areas adjacent to its southern borders.
Shawakh pointed out that Turkey’s monitoring of the activities of these groups is intended to prevent the SDF’s military gatherings on the Syrian side of the border, to prevent the implementation of attacks against it, as happened previously when missiles fell into Turkish territory coming from Syria, during intermittent periods of time.
Did it achieve its purpose?
The Turkish-Russian patrols, stipulated in the Sochi agreement in October 2019, aim to ensure that the PKK and SDF are removed from the Turkish border, 30 kilometers away, and to end any military presence in the patrol area that extends from the eastern countryside of Aleppo to the eastern countryside of al-Hasakah governorate, adjacent to the Turkish border.
Although the conduct of the patrols continued for a long time, it began to gradually decrease, and even the announcement of their official implementation stopped, in conjunction with the SDF’s continued fortification of its positions and the construction of hundreds of kilometers of fortified trenches with armed cement.
In addition to a complex network of tunnels around and inside the border cities, in front of the Russian forces and the regime, according to previous reports published by Enab Baladi.
Shawakh said that the patrols have always aimed for Turkey to monitor SDF’s withdrawal from the areas near its southern border.
However, in view of the field situation in the region, this withdrawal did not take place, which indicates that the patrols still maintain part of their objectives, which is to monitor the current situation, so that Turkey can evaluate its memorandum of understanding with Russia, and the extent of its effectiveness, Jusoor’s researcher said.
For years, Turkey and Russia have been accusing each other of not fulfilling the terms of the Sochi agreement signed between them regarding the geography extending from Idlib to al-Hasakah.
The latest Russian statements were from the Russian President’s Special Envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, who said, “Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations related to the de-escalation zone in Idlib, and it must fulfill its commitments in this regard.”
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said that Russia has not fulfilled its commitments regarding the de-escalation agreement in Syria.
The rate of joint patrols has decreased since the beginning of 2022, as the two parties carried out only ten joint patrols during the first quarter of the same year, at a rate of three patrols per month, while in 2021, they organized 66 joint patrols, at a rate of more than five patrols per month, according to a study by the Jusoor Center for Studies.
Before the April-6 joint patrol, Russia announced a patrol on December 15, 2022, that included the northern and western countryside of al-Hasakah, after a break that lasted for several weeks, following the Turkish bombing campaign in Syria in November of the previous year, according to the Russian Sputnik agency.
While Turkey, for its part, did not announce the launch of a joint patrol in the region on the same date, and it came through its Twitter account between December 15 and 16, 2022, announcements that it had neutralized terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
On November 22, 2022, the Russian military police canceled a joint patrol with Turkey in the city of Ayn al-Arab (Kobani), following Turkish shelling of areas around the city, according to the local North Press agency.
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