The Kurdish-controlled town of Ain Issa has become the focal point of fresh tensions in northeast Syria as Turkey appears to be exploring a new military operation to undo Kurdish gains before US President-elect Joe Biden assumes office.
The Russian response to the Turkish threat evokes the scenario that led to Turkey’s seizure of the mainly Kurdish region of Afrin in 2018. In a bid to preclude a Turkish move, the Russians had pressed the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to cede control of the area to the Syrian government. The YPG refused, leading Russia to tacitly greenlight the Turkish incursion. According to local sources, the Russians are now pressing the Kurds to hand Ain Issa over to the Syrian government, warning them that the Turkish military and allied militias are determined to seize the town. A formula similar to the arrangement in Qamishli is reportedly on the table as well. When the Kurds took control of the Kurdish-majority city in 2012, they agreed to leave the control of the airport and an area housing public buildings to Damascus.