Russian troops have begun patrols on the Syrian border to remove Kurdish fighters as part of an agreement with Turkey.
The forces were seen heading towards the city of Kobane in northern Syria the day after Turkey and Russia agreed measures to remove Syrian Kurdish fighters from the border and jointly patrol the area.
As part of the deal, Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces will establish 15 posts at the border alongside Russian troops, according to the Interfax news agency.
The agreement came at the end of a five-day ceasefire which had been brokered to allow the Kurds to withdraw following Turkey’s incursion into northeast Syria.
Now the Kremlin has demanded that Kurdish fighters pull back from the entire frontier or face being “steamrolled” by Turkish forces.
As Russian troops began their patrols, US President Donald Trump said Turkey was making the ceasefire permanent, prompting him to lift sanctions imposed on Turkish imports in response to the recent violence “unless something happens that we are not happy with”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoed Russia’s demand for Kurdish soldiers to retreat, saying his military would resume its offensive in northeastern Syria if neither Russia or the US ensured the Syrian Kurdish fighters were removed.
President Erdogan said he received assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Kurdish fighters would not be able remain in the region by simply donning Syrian army uniforms.
A deadline of next Tuesday evening has been given for any remaining Kurdish fighters to leave the border areas.
The upheaval was triggered by Donald Trump’s decision on 8 October to abruptly pull US troops out of the region.
The US withdrawal was seen by many as an abandonment of its Kurdish allies in the battle against the Islamic State and paved the way for Turkey’s long-planned incursion.
“The United States was the closest ally of the Kurds during the last few years, and in the end the US ditched the Kurds and effectively betrayed them,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be a terrorist organisation aligned with a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has called for a political resolution to the conflict and urged Turkey to focus on the threat posed by Islamic State.
He said it was important to ensure the extremists are defeated “and that we understand that the fight against ISIS is not over. They can come back.”
The military alliance’s head added it was too early to judge the outcome of the Russia-Turkey agreement.
Meanwhile, Iraq shut down the US military’s attempt to continue fighting the Islamic State on its soil.
Iraqi defence minister Najah al Shammari said US troops leaving Syria did not have permission to stay in Iraq and would have to leave within four weeks.
In a statement, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi reaffirmed that his country did not give the US permission and would be taking legal action.
This constituted a blow to the US after defence secretary Mark Esper said earlier this week that American forces would remain in Iraq to continue fighting the Islamic State.