Russian police and Syrian troops began deploying along the Turkish border on Wednesday, after striking a deal with Turkey to stave off a large offensive on Kurdish-held Syria.
Humvees bearing Russian flags were filmed driving into Kobane - a town considered by the Kurds to be the heart of their territory, marking the first pro-regime presence in the area in more than seven years.
The deal, which was struck between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Russian President Vladimir Putin, gave Kurdish fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) until Tuesday evening to withdraw 18 miles back along a 270-mile stretch of the border.
Turkey’s defense ministry said on Wednesday that the withdrawal from its so-called “safe zone” would mean that there was “no further need to conduct a new operation,” which would prevent a feared humanitarian crisis.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said Moscow and Ankara would “work together” to arrange the resettlement of a million Syrian refugees into the buffer zone, but admitted that “in order to feel safe” the returnees would need reassurances from President Bashar al-Assad.
However, the deal was scant on detail and there was no immediate comment from the SDF.
What it did reveal was Russia’s position as powerbroker in Syria.
The order made by President Donald Trump for US troops to leave Syria marked a blow to American influence on the ground. Those forces were allied with the Kurdish-led fighters for five years in the long and bloody campaign that brought down Isil.
"The United States has been the Kurds' closest ally in recent years. (But) in the end, it abandoned the Kurds and, in essence, betrayed them," Dmitri Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said pointedly on Wednesday. "Now they prefer to leave the Kurds at the border and almost force them to fight the Turks."
Or as Mr Cavousoglu put it: “When you are present on the ground, then you are also present on the negotiating table."
The US, which was not present at Tuesday’s talks in Mr Putin’s dacha in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, has been shut out of decision-making and left with little leverage to demand assurances for its former Kurdish partners.
Mark Esper, US secretary of defence, was in Baghdad on Wednesday meeting with Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to manage the fallout of their quick retreat.
The US withdrew the bulk of its some 1,000 troops from Syria on Monday, greeted on the way out by Kurdish residents throwing rotten fruit and holding up signs reading “we will not forget this betrayal”.
The Pentagon had announced the troops were expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State and "to help defend Iraq".
But it appeared the move was not first approved by Baghdad, which issued a statement saying they did not have the right to remain in the country.
Mr Esper was told he had 30 days to remove the troops.