Russia opposes expansion of Turkey’s north Syria ‘safe zone’

Turkey should remain within the boundaries of the area it calls a safe zone that it set up in an October deal with Russia and should not expand beyond it, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev said on Tuesday. 

The memorandum signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan clearly defines the safe zone, Russian state news agency TASS quoted Lavrentyev as saying to reporters. 

“It needs to be maintained in its current form. This is the only way. Expanding the zone will do nothing good,” he said in response to a question. 

"Various forces continue to stage provocations but on the whole, I think that we have succeeded in stabilising the situation there. In my view, it is a very good sign,” Lavrentyev said.

Ankara and Moscow agreed on a safe zone that covers a 30 km deep area along a 444 km stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border and have been conducting joint patrols. Moscow, which pledged to ensure the withdrawal of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the area, has also been acting as a broker for talks between Damascus and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in north Syria.

Turkey sees the YPG as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades. Ankara has repeatedly said that it would stay in north Syria until the areas near the Turkish border are cleared off the YPG, which it calls a terrorist organisation. 

Meanwhile a two-day meeting started on Tuesday in Kazakhstan’s capital of Nur-Sultan involving the guarantors of the Astana process – Russia, Iran and Turkey – the Syrian government and the armed opposition, as well as high-ranking representatives from the United Nations, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Lavrentyev and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin head the Russian delegation to the meeting, while the Turkish delegation is led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal, TASS said.