03/03/2021

Khaled al-Kateb for Al-Monitor: is Russia extorting the Syrian Democratic Forces?

NORTH AND EAST SYRIA – In a recent article for Al-Monitor, Khaled al-Khateb explores the growing Russian influence in North and East Syria, made possible by the October 2019 withdrawal of U.S. forces by former President Donald Trump.

The American absence coupled with the Turkish invasion of the region have allowed Russian forces to extort the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) by threatening to withdraw from its positions, leaving them to face a renewed Turkish invasion. What Russia ultimately wants from the SDF in return for its continued presence on the frontline is for it to acquiesce to the demands of the Syrian regime, effectively ending a decade of self-rule.

According to the article, on 21 February, Russian forces withdrew from their base in Ayn Issa and relocated to their military base in Tal al-Samman, southeast of the town. The Russian forces returned to their original positions the next day.

Ayn Issa has seen near daily bombardment from Turkish forces and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) and the occasional infiltration attempt.

Russian forces also partially withdrew from their military base in Tal Tamr, also returning the next day.

The article also noted that the recent Russian military moves in North and East Syria likely have the aim of removing the SDF from the M4 highway, which acts as the frontline, and establishing a joint Turkish-Russian de-escalation zone similar to that in Idlib.