Why Russia’s patrols in Syria keep running into trouble

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According to reports there were tensions on June 2 when a Russian patrol wanted to enter some areas near Derik in eastern Syria.

Russian patrols in Syria, jointly done with Turkey or sometimes with just Russian vehicles, keep running into controversy. A bomb allegedly targeted one patrol near Idlib and others in eastern Syria have run into angry locals and been interdicted by the US. It shows how Syria is a competition for the great powers and how no one knows what may come next.

According to reports there were tensions on June 2 when a Russian patrol wanted to enter some areas near Derik in eastern Syria. The Russians have been in eastern Syria since the US withdrew and Turkey began attacking Kurdish minorities. Turkish-backed extremists executed people and caused 200,000 to flee. The Syrian Democratic Forces, which are backed by the US, then enabled a deal to protect the Kurds from  further Turkish shelling the Russians and Syrian regime would create a ceasefire. The SDF still nominally controls much of eastern Syria but an uneasy and bizarre peace reigns where by Russia and Turkey do join patrols in one area while the US, supposedly a Turkish ally, does patrols in another area. Turkey claims the SDF are terrorists even though the SDF defeated ISIS.

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Russia also ended up doing patrols in Idlib because the Russian-backed Syrian regime launched an offensive in February that clashed with Turkish troops in Idlib. Russia stepped in to enforce a ceasefire. Russia is thus the sort of referee in Syria. But like all referees it can’t be all things to everyone. Kurds are disappointed Russia didn’t do more to support them, and Syrian rebels despise Russia for aiding the Assad regime. The US doesn’t like the Russians. Only Turkey and Russia seem to get along well.

After the June 2 incident near Derik another incident developed on Thursday. Long lines of civilian cars were backed up as US and Russian soldiers squared off. Reports indicated the US stopped the Russians from entering Derik and that the Russians had to go back to Qamishli. Something else may be afoot. Sirwan Kajjo at VOA news notes that the Russians may be seeking to expand their presence and build a base near Qasir Dib, a village near Derik. The US may not want Russia expanding its footprint even more. The full details of what caused the standoff are still unclear.

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Meanwhile North Press reports that an explosion targeted a joint Russia-Turkey convoy near Idlib. The incident is along a stretch of M4 highway between Arihah and Kafr Shlaya near Idlib in northwest Syria. Meanwhile Russian and Turkish soldiers carried out their 15th joint patrol near Idlib.

Russia may be pushing for more space in eastern Syria to challenge the US during the pandemic and protests that have affected Washington. In addition Russia may be challenged in Idlib by Syrian rebel groups. This long frontline for the Russians is full of different crises. Russia thrives on crises because it means all the countries in the region must work with Russia to solve them. In that sense Russia wants to have its hands in numerous pots, from Syria to Libya. Russia and Turkey both seek to partition these countries into spheres of influence.

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