Russian troops are engaging in standoffs with U.S. troops guarding oil fields and fighting remnants of the Islamic State.
NYT Story, read it here
By Eric Schmitt
Feb. 14, 2020
WASHINGTON — Russia is intensifying a pressure campaign on U.S. military forces in northeastern Syria following the American withdrawal from much of that area ahead of a Turkish cross-border offensive last fall, American military and diplomatic officials say.
Russian military personnel have increasingly had run-ins with U.S. troops on highways in the region, breaking agreements between the two countries to steer clear of each other. Russian helicopters are flying closer to American troops. And on Wednesday, a U.S.-led convoy returned fire after it came under attack near a checkpoint manned by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who are backed by Russia.
American officials say these actions by Russian personnel and their Syrian allies are devised to present a constant set of challenges, probes and encroachments to slowly create new facts on the ground and make the U.S. military presence there more tenuous. About 500 American troops remain deployed in Syria with a mission to protect oil fields and help fight remnants of the Islamic State.
“These are not daily occurrences but they have been increasing in number, and thus is troubling,” James F. Jeffrey, the top American diplomat overseeing Syria issues, told reporters last week.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Russia directly for the first time in a long while in the wake of the recent escalation in northwestern Syria.
Lashing out at intense Russian airstrikes in and around Idlib, Erdogan said Russia “doesn’t comply” with the 2018 Sochi agreement to establish a demilitarized zone around the last stronghold of the Syrian rebels where the Syrian regime’s advances continue.
“The Astana process has become moribund,” Erdogan said, speaking to reporters on his return from Senegal late Wednesday. “Turkey, Russia and Iran should seek a way to revive it.” The talks in the Kazakh capital — initiated by Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin and also involving Iran — first began three years ago to find a solution to the Syrian conflict but have recently stalled.
Why it matters: As Turkey’s relations with the Western powers and regional countries took a nosedive following Ankara’s unilateral moves in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Erdogan’s remarks targeting Russia came as a surprise.
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And the east of the Euphrates, where the zone of operation “Source of Peace” is located, for some time becomes the scene of the confrontation between the two superpowers. Last week, on the M-4 highway, near Tel Tamra, the US military stopped a Russian patrol heading for Kamyshly. And yesterday, the two countries exchanged signals using their air forces. After the United States sent Apache helicopters to the region, Russia, also sending its Mi-8 helicopters, threatened Washington.