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President Vladimir Putin of Russia emerged from talks with his Turkish counterpart, Tayyip Erdogan, to announce a deal which would see their troops conduct joint patrols in Syrian territory previously held by Kurdish fighters, according to Reuters.
The agreement will see the Kurdish YPG militia–erstwhile allies in the region of the United States–pushed beyond the strip of land in northern Syria in which Turkey wants to create a “safe zone.”
The deal, reached during talks which the two presidents held in the southern Russian resort of Sochi, confirms Russia’s role as the pre-eminent outside power in the Middle East.
In 2015, Russia exploited a western reluctance to act in Syria, launching a military intervention which turned the tide of the war decisively in the favour of President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia setting the rules in Syria
Four years later, it is Russia which is setting the rules following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the territory which Moscow’s forces will now jointly patrol with Turkish troops, according to the new agreement.
After twenty years at the peak of Russian politics, Putin has regained some of the international power and prestige which Moscow lost with the collapse of its superpower status at the end of the Cold War.
In recent years, that has come at the cost of confrontation with the west. The 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine led to sanctions, but also proved popular at home.
The venue for Putin’s meeting with Erdogan echoes Russia’s recent international ambitions. Sochi was also the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, reported to have cost $50 billion. Combined with the 2018 soccer World Cup, which Russia also hosted, it was a sign of Russia’s determination to raise its global profile with soft power as well as military might.
Russia seeks influence in Africa
In the coming days, Sochi will also be the venue for the first Russia-Africa summit. More than African leaders have been invited. Despite Putin’s insistence that, “we strongly oppose any geopolitical ‘games’ involving Africa,” the decision to host the meeting is already being seen as an attempt to challenge U.S. and Chinese influence and business interests on the resource-rich continent.