Russia announced on Tuesday that its units were patrolling between the Turkish and Syrian militaries near the northern Syrian town of Manbij in a sign that Moscow, a key ally of the Syrian government, was moving to fill a security vacuum after US troops were withdrawn from the area, The Washington Post reported.
A Russian Defense Ministry statement said military police in northwestern Manbij were patrolling “along the line of contact between the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey.” The statement said the Russian military was also “interacting” with Turkey’s government.
A US official said late Monday that US troops had withdrawn from Manbij. Early Tuesday Syrian state television reported that government troops had entered the town, airing video footage of what it said were residents celebrating the arrival of Syrian forces in the center of Manbij. The developments come a day after the Syrian Kurds announced that they had struck an agreement with the government of President Bashar al-Assad aimed at blunting a nearly week-long Turkish government offensive into Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.
The deal would allow Syrian government forces to take over security in some border areas, according to Syrian Kurdish officials, who said their administration would maintain control of local institutions.
Ankara has said its military operation is aimed at clearing the border of Syrian Kurdish forces with links to Kurdish militants inside Turkey and repatriating Syrian refugees to the country.
The United States and other Western allies of Turkey have condemned the operation, warning it could lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group. The Trump administration on Monday called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to implement an immediate cease-fire and imposed sanctions against Turkey’s defense and energy ministries as well as three senior Turkish officials.
Trump has been harshly criticized, including by some of his own Republican allies, for withdrawing US troops and leaving the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to face the Turkish military. Vice President Mike Pence announced on Monday that he was leading a delegation to Turkey in the “immediate future” in an effort to end the violence.
Erdoğan has given no indication he is willing to halt the offensive. “We will soon secure the region from Manbij to the border with Iraq,” he said on Tuesday, during a visit to Azerbaijan, referring to a 230-mile expanse.