Russia’s Delicate Dance with the Syrian Kurds

The news came out earlier this week that Russian jets were helping local militias, including those comprised of Kurdish elements, in their anti-terrorist struggle against Daesh, with the representative of the Russian center for Syrian Reconciliation, Major General Yevgeniy Poplavskiy, stating that the recent campaign in the region was coordinated out of the Khmeimim airbase. After the fighting was finished, Russia hosted 23 envoys in a meeting in a small city on the eastern bank of the river to discuss their post-conflict political options, and this notably included the YPG, which is the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party and designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey. Neither Ankara, nor Damascus for that matter, want to see the PYD take part in Astana, and these two countries’ refusal to allow the group’s participation has greatly complicated the Russian-led efforts and even led to the postponement of the “Syrian National Dialogue Congress” that was originally supposed to take place late last month in Sochi.

Furthermore, while the US said that it’s going to stop sending weapons to the Syrian Kurds, it’s not likely that it’ll fully withdraw all of the approximately 2000 troops that it’s estimated to have in northeastern Syria, nor close the roughly 10 bases that it’s thought to have opened there. This indicates that the US is probably shifting its support of the Kurds into the political realm in helping them secure their on-the-ground gains in the region, but Russia’s recent breakthroughs with this group in both the anti-terrorist and post-conflict negotiation spheres suggest that Moscow is competing for their loyalty alongside Washington. Russia would rather prefer that the Kurds be under its own sponsorship than the US’, seeing as how they control nearly a third of Syria and most of its energy reserves, but it can’t exactly invite the PYD to Astana or Sochi due to Syria and Turkey’s resistance to this.

Therefore, Russia might be in the midst of devising a unique workaround solution whereby it enters into a deal with the YPG to allow Moscow to invite their Arab SDF allies to these international events instead, with this group representing the Kurds’ self-declared “federal” ambitions in those negotiations while Russia represents Damascus’ authority in northeastern Syria and ensures that the region doesn’t ever get any serious separatist ideas. In exchange, the Kurds could respect Damascus’ prior agreement to let Russia rebuild its energy infrastructure after the war and even share some of the profits with those two parties, while bargaining to keep the US military in the region per a revived deconfliction agreement between Washington and Moscow in order to “hedge their bets” and “balance” between them. Damascus wants to restore Syria’s constitutional unity, while the Kurds want to change the country into a “federation”, which is where Russia’s delicate diplomatic dance comes in.

Moscow is hoping that it can serve as the ultimate mediator between the two diametrically opposed political sides and get them to agree on the “decentralization” clause that Russia included in the “draft constitution” that it wrote for Syria, but to do so, it must prove to both of them that this is the most pragmatic “political solution” possible given the complex situational constraints and as per President Putin’s insistence during last month’s Sochi Summit with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts that all sides – including Damascus – must enact “compromises and concessions”.


By Andrew Korybko
Source: Oriental Review

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