On October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi. During the meeting, a memorandum of understanding was reached between the two leaders, after more than six hours of talks.
In the agreement the two sides reiterate their commitment to the preservation of Syria's political unity and territorial integrity and the protection of Turkey's national security. Both sides also established a status quo in the current Operation Peace Spring area. Starting October 23, Russian military police entered the Syrian side of the Turkish –Syrian border, outside the area of the Operation Peace Spring, to "facilitate the removal of YPG elements and their weapons to the depth of 30 km (19miles) from the Turkish border", which should be finalized in 150 hours. The agreement also states that all YPG elements and their weapons will be removed from Manbij and Tal Rifat.
Commenting on the agreement, the influential Russian blogger El Murid stressed that the total number of Russian forces in Syria will probably be increased, after the agreement with Erdogan. One reason is that Russia faces exactly the same problem in Syria as it had encountered in Afghanistan: prospects for finding local "allies" are close to zero. Russia has tried to create something based on the Syrian 5th Army Corps, but apparently that army's combat level remains something between that of a construction battalion and a training corps.
El Murid wrote that when Putin started this war, his task was simple: we go in, we win, we beat out of Erdogan consent for four gas pipelines, and then - we leave. All this, El-Murid explained, was supposed to unfold quickly on a compact territory, without expanding the combat zone. "But Erdogan didn't play fair - he simply shot down a Russian plane, which closed the original script and forced the Russian partners to improvise. As a result, we got what we have — four years of the war, the result … is close to zero, the prospects for Russia being dragged into the conflict have grown to alarming proportions," El Murid said.
Now, claimed El Murid, the real question had become how Putin will manage to get out of Syria.
Below is El Murid's article:
The 'Ground Component' Of The Forces In Syria Will Increase Significantly After The Agreement with Erdogan
"The agreement on Syria concluded in Sochi between the two occupying forces: Russia and Turkey, has several points (obscured by the media adulation) to which no one pays any attention.
"And the first point is quite obvious. Today, there are from 1.5 to two thousand military policemen in Syria (it's difficult to put an exact number, since on the one hand everything and everyone is paranoidly classified, while on the other - the pathological mendacity of all officials, including senior management). These policemen, plus special operations forces, plus security units comprise Russia's entire ground contingent of Russia in Syria.
"It is clear that there are still advisers, unregistered private militants, some artillerymen (information about whom appears periodically), military personnel from the air defense units, officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and so on; but in general their number is hardly prohibitive (and they relate to other departments of the Russian government). The total contingent strength of the Russian troops can be estimated in the range of 10-15 thousand people. Which is, perhaps, the limit for modern Russia (for a remote theater of operations). You can increase this number, but then the maintenance of the forces will require extreme efforts.
"According to the Sochi agreement, Turkish and Russian military police will take joint control of the Syrian-Turkish border. If you subtract the Operation Peace Spring area and a small area near Qamishli, the patrol zone is traversed by a 200 km long border. This means that the military police contingent must be increased at least threefold. Additionally, the military police cannot carry out tasks by themselves- they require security. Yesterday, it was reported that several Russian helicopters had already landed on the airfield vacated by the Americans - this is the arrival of police support.
"The ongoing hasty reconstruction of Tabka airfield is the same story. From [the main Russian airbase at} Khmeimim the planes simply will not reach the patrol zone. It is clear that helicopters are not the end of the story. They also need to be provided for, protected, supplied, [have their] personnel - rotated, and so on. And these things require people and technology. Moreover, it is impossible to get them from other points and locations - there they carry out other tasks. So it means that the total number of forces in Syria must be increased. And size also means infrastructure. It's not possible to give people just tents and to store equipment and ammunition in dugouts.
"This means new bases and deployment positions. And this again will require security, provision, people and equipment. In general, the point is that the 'ground component' of the forces in Syria will increase significantly after the conclusion of agreements with Erdogan (simply judging by objective indicators). In a sense, it's even good that the Americans have deceived everyone and are not going to leave southern Syria either - another agreement in this area will also mean a multiple increase of the entire Russian forces, for which the supply and security will again be a crucial factor.
Russia Has The Same Problem In Syria As It Had In Afghanistan
"For the audience of various patriotic television broadcasts, this consideration does not mean anything, but in reality it is already fully a classic 'Afghan story', and analogies are quite appropriate if we recall that Afghanistan was after all a contiguous state, and Syria is significantly further away from Russian borders. (And besides, Russia creeps into Africa, fights, albeit slightly lazy, in Ukraine - in general, there are things to do even without Syria). And Russia has exactly the same problem in Syria as it had in Afghanistan – the prospects for help from local 'allies' are nearly nil. Even in stable conditions, it is extremely difficult to create something militarily capable from the indigenous formations (and shift some responsibility to them).
"The Americans in Iraq eventually were able to train only one combat-ready formation - the 'Golden Division', which ultimately went into Mosul at full strength. Russia is trying to follow the same path in Syria - creating something based on the 5th army corps, but apparently, that army's combat level remains something between a construction battalion and a training corps. We must not forget that the 'allies' need close supervision.
"Assad is eager to fight in Idlib, which is understandable: the presence of a parallel government with its own territory and army is a fatal threat to the regime. However, the Kremlin cannot support him in this endeavor - this is the Turkish occupation zone (which was agreed in Astana and included in the complicated balance of agreements with Erdogan on the procedure for occupying Syrian territory).
"The agreements in Sochi have further complicated these mutual relations, and above them are also factors 'external' to the Syrian war, for example: the very same 'TurkStream', with which Erdogan can blackmail partners in a number of ways. There are also Iranians who are fighting a completely separate war, creating their own obstructions and disturbances. Therefore, the military police contingent in Aleppo, in principle, cannot be transferred to the Euphrates - from time to time there are reports of shooting incidents and even the deaths of police personnel attributed to armed Shi'ite thugs who actually control this city and a significant part of the 'liberated' province. Plus there is a 'Shi'ite corridor' along the Euphrates to Deir ez-Zor, and further - through the desert to Homs.
"This is also a conflict zone, burdened by the presence of one thousand or a thousand and a half ISIS fighters in the desert. Objectively, there are no premises for cutting back the presence of Russian ground forces, but there are premises for an increase in their numbers, which in turn constitutes a threat that is unclear what to do about it; the option of maintaining the existing contingent is at its limit.
"When Putin started this war, his task was simple: we go in, we win, we beat out of Erdogan consent for four pipelines, and then - we leave. In such a scenario, everything was supposed to happen on a compact territory, without expanding the combat zone and most speedily. This, by the way, is what actually happened at the beginning. But Erdogan didn't play fair - he simply shot down a Russian plane, which closed the original script and forced the Russian partners to improvise.
"As a result, we got what we have — four years of the war, the result (well, the real one — about the pipes) is close to zero, the prospects for Russia getting dragged into the conflict have grown to alarming proportions. Only 'Russia's growing authority' is to its credit, which comes against the backdrop of open horse laughs at the cretins, who got sunk in the swamp up to their eyebrows.
"It is clear that everyone is now looking with interest at Putin, who must somehow wiggle out of the position in which he got himself into. Of course, not all by himself, but with the friendly help of all the other partners, but in the end, he made the decision to fight, so it is he who needs to get out of it.
"For television audiences, the kettledrums and already undisguised hints are thundering, that it is time to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Putin. After all, it is necessary to cover the obvious failure of the strategic project to bypass Ukraine. It was too widely announced in comparison to the results achieved, therefore, something must be done to distract [attention] from this unpleasant fact. And a victorious war-cry is the only thing one can think of."
 See also Special Dispatch No. 8256, News.ru: Russia's Influence In Syria Is Called Into Question; Why Did Syria's 'Tiger Forces' Change Their Image?, September 2, 2019.
 El-murid.livejournal.com, October 23, 2019.