Syria: Handover of Manbij Tests Fledgling Turkey-Russia Cooperation

2 MINS READMar 3, 2017 | 20:01 GMT

The Manbij Military Council will cede control of villages in western Manbij to Russia-backed loyalist forces, Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the Russian General Staff's main operations department, confirmed March 3. Loyalist forces already have begun moving into the area. Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said the move confirms the Turkish government's allegations that the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, the Syrian government and the Islamic State are actively cooperating.

It also calls into question the extent of Russia-Turkey cooperation on Syria. Hours before Russia's announcement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was still insisting that Turkey would capture Manbij and drive out the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). The Russia-backed loyalist takeover of the villages could seriously undermine that plan.

Turkey is now less able to spoil the Raqqa offensive by attacking Manbij.

Despite their divergent positions on the Syrian civil war, Turkey and Russia had recently been more closely aligned, paving the way for a bilateral cease-fire in Syria and negotiations for a solution to the conflict. The improved relationship also enabled Turkey to enter the war to prevent the YPG from expanding its control to link Afrin and Kobani cantons. The improved relations have helped Russia, too. The rebel defense of Aleppo weakened as forces were pulled away to other Turkey-backed operations, eventually allowing loyalists to capture the city.

The United States, however, could gain from the move. Turkey is now less able to spoil the Raqqa offensive by attacking Manbij, an action that would force the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces to turn their attention from Raqqa to Manbij.

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