Kurds must pull back or face Turks: Russia

Turkey and Russia have struck a deal that sees the Kurdish YPG removed from the Syrian border.
Turkey and Russia have struck a deal that sees the Kurdish YPG removed from the Syrian border.

Russia has warned Syrian Kurdish YPG forces they face further armed conflict with Turkey if they fail to comply with a Russian-Turkish accord calling for their withdrawal from the entire length of Syria's northeastern border with Turkey.

Moscow's warning came shortly before Russian and Syrian security forces were due to start overseeing the removal of YPG fighters and weapons at least 30km into Syria under the deal struck by presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A complete pullout of the YPG would mark a victory for Erdogan, who launched a cross-border offensive on October 9 to drive the Kurdish militia from the border and create a "safe zone" for the return of Syrian refugees.

The accord, which expands on a US-brokered deal last week, also underlines Putin's dominant influence in Syria and seals the return of his ally President Bashar al-Assad's forces to northeast Syria for the first time in years, by endorsing the deployment of Syrian border guards from noon (8pm AEDT) on Wednesday.

Six days later, Russian and Turkish forces will jointly start to patrol a 10km strip in northeast Syria where US troops for years were deployed along with their former Kurdish allies.

Those changes reflect the pace of changes in Syria since President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US forces from northern Syria earlier in October, shaking up the military balance across a quarter of the country after eight years of conflict.

Kurdish militia commanders have yet to respond to the deal reached in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi and it was not immediately clear how their withdrawal could be enforced.

A joint Turkish-Russian statement issued after six hours of talks between Putin and Erdogan said they would establish a "joint monitoring and verification mechanism" to oversee implementation of the agreement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was more blunt: if Kurdish forces did not retreat, Syrian border guards and Russian military police would have to fall back.

"And remaining Kurdish formations would then fall under the weight of the Turkish army," he said.

In a swipe at Washington, which has called into question how the deal will be guaranteed, Peskov said the United States had been the closest ally of the Kurdish fighters but had now betrayed them.

"Now (the Americans) prefer to leave the Kurds at the border and almost force them to fight the Turks," he said in remarks to Russian news agencies.

The Kurdish-led SDF were Washington's main allies in the fight to dismantle Islamic State in Syria. Trump's decision to pull troops out was criticised by US lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, as a betrayal.

In a further sign of growing ties between Ankara and Moscow, which have alarmed the US administration, the head of Russia's defence sales agency was quoted by the Interfax news agency on Wednesday as saying Moscow could deliver more S-400 missile defence systems to Turkey.

Turkey, a NATO member, has already been frozen out of a program to buy and help produce F-35 jets and faces possible US sanctions for buying the S-400 systems, which Washington says are incompatible with NATO's defences and threaten the F-35 if operated near the stealth fighter.

Overnight, Turkey's defence ministry said the United States had told Ankara the YPG had completed its withdrawal from the area of Turkey's military offensive.

There was no need to initiate another operation outside the current area of operation at this stage, the ministry said, in effect ending its military offensive that began two weeks ago, drawing widespread criticism.

Australian Associated Press