The Current

U.S. withdrawal from Syria already creating 'a new regional order': Guardian correspondent

The U.S. decision to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria is already creating a reordering of power in the region, with Russia at the top, according to The Guardian's Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov.

Martin Chulov says the withdrawal has created 'a vacuum of historic proportions'

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, has brokered a deal between Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria and the forces of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via Associated Press)

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President Donald Trump's sudden decision last week to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria has already facilitated "a new regional order, with Russia at the top of the totem pole," according to the Guardian's Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov.

Chulov told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch that the withdrawal has created a power vacuum "of historic proportions, the effects of which cannot be overstated," and that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's forces and their Russian allies have quickly moved in to fill it.

"In all my years in this job, it's been very unusual to see something like this play out so rapidly," said Chulov, who has been reporting from the Middle East for 15 years.

'The fear on the streets was palpable'

Since 2012, the Kurdish-inhabited region of northeastern Syria has operated semi-autonomously, after Assad's forces withdrew to focus on fighting rebel factions in the civil war in other parts of the country. 

The U.S. has been the dominant political force in the area since 2015, said Chulov, when it partnered with Kurdish forces to fight ISIS.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) celebrate the first anniversary of Raqqa province liberation from ISIS, in Raqqa, Syria on Oct. 27, 2018. (Aboud Hamam/Reuters)

Chulov was reporting this past Sunday from the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, a Kurdish administrative hub, when news broke that Syrian government forces, who for decades had denied many rights to Kurds, would be returning to towns along the border.

Russia, Chulov explained, had brokered a deal between Kurdish forces and the Syrian government over control of the region.

"It meant that power was changing hands, and the fear on the streets was palpable," said Chulov. 

Displaced Syrians sit in the back of a pick up truck as Arab and Kurdish civilians flee amid Turkey's military assault on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, on Oct. 11 in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad. (Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images)

The streets of Qamishli immediately emptied, he said, and the people he was staying with while reporting "started to tremble." 

"One of them said to us, you must leave now," he said.

Chulov did — and left to safety in Erbil, on the Iraqi side of the border. 

New alliances being formed 'in real time'

Since Trump announced the withdrawal on Oct. 6, said Chulov, "friend and foe alike of the U.S. understand that they have Donald Trump's measure — that he's not somebody, in their estimation, who is going to stick by his allies."

An explosion is seen over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar on Oct. 12. (Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

"So new alliances are being very quickly formed in real time," he added. "The Russians are saying very loudly, we are stepping into this space."

The reordering of power has left the Kurds without any close allies, he said, and they may be scrambling to find a regional supporter.

"Their only play will be to look towards Iran as a regional patron," he said. 

"And I think that Iran, who has long coveted northeastern Syria, would see the Kurds of the province as a good way to assert their influence."

Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Jessica Linzey.


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