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Syria Endgame?
Russia’s Kurdish Card in Syria

With the United States largely sidelined in the most recent Syria peace talks, Russia and Turkey have emerged as the key powerbrokers of the Syria conflict. With a new round of peace talks forthcoming, the Russians are pushing hard to get Syria’s Kurds at the table. Rudaw:

Russia has called for the inclusion of the Kurds in the expected Geneva talks later this month, after their exclusion in previous rounds of both Geneva and Astana talks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that his country is trying to bring the Kurds and the Syrian regime to a common ground aimed at preserving the unity of the country. […]

The Kurdish ruling Union Democratic Party (PYD) had earlier said that they had received assurances from countries including Russia, that they would attend the meetings in Geneva, a move strongly opposed by the Syrian opposition, and one of their regional backers, Turkey, which considers the Kurdish group an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and therefore a terrorist organization.

The Russian push to court the Kurds follows on a statement late last week from Russia’s foreign ministry stating that Moscow did not consider the PKK and YPG to be terrorist groups. And it comes after a broader controversy over a proposal at the last Astana peace talks, when Russia reportedly introduced a draft Syrian constitution with provisions for Kurdish autonomous regions. According to Al-Monitor, the Kurdish provision was especially controversial and appeared to be a non-starter for both Turkey and Syria, with Assad’s government issuing an outright rejection of the idea of Kurdish autonomy.

Damascus and Ankara have good reason to fear the Kurds, so why is Russia pushing the idea so insistently? Although Moscow claims to be working in good faith toward an acceptable peace, its real calculation is likely much more cynical. The Russians have a long history of weaponizing the Kurds for their own geopolitical ends, as Adam Garfinkle explained in these pages last year. In 1945, for instance, the Soviets propped up a short-lived Kurdish client state, the Republic of Mahabad, as a means to subvert Iran and Turkey. In later decades, they funded and armed the PKK, while cultivating ties with their Kurdish confreres in Syria. This history is not lost on Erdogan or Assad, who fear that Russia-backed Kurdish regions would become a lever for Moscow to inflict pain and pressure on both governments, as the need arises.

The Russians, of course, would not openly admit to instrumentalizing the Kurds in this way, and have denied that they want to dictate terms on Kurdish autonomy to Syria. The leaked news of their constitutional proposal, however, suggests that such schemes are very much on their minds. Syria peace talks resume next week in Kazakhstan, followed by the UN-supported talks in Geneva on February 20, so time will tell whether Russia can play the Kurdish card to its full advantage.

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  • virgile

    Damascus doe not fear the Kurds as much as Turkey. The YPG Kurds are Syrians and secular .They may find an accommodation with Bashar Al Assad. For Turkey, the Kurds are a serious problem as they represent 20% of the population and are not in tune with Erdogans’ Islamism

  • Disappeared4x

    Must be about who will control the watershed of the Tigris and Euphrates, the watershed where Kurds have lived for 5,000 years.

    • Andrew Allison

      Thanks to the so-called “smartest man in the room”, the US is irrelevant in Syria.

      • Disappeared4x

        The U.S. was invited to Astana meet, but only the ambassador to Kazakhstan was available to observe. Now there is a real SecState.
        Just not in the news.

        Speaking of relevancy:
        “The Lebanese Hezbollah movement strongly supports the Syrian
        ceasefire agreed on in Kazakhstan and any truce that could lead to a political solution, its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday.

        “Hezbollah strongly supports, not just the Astana ceasefire, any ceasefire agreed upon in Syria,” Nasrallah said, in order “to prevent bloodshed and pave the way for political solutions”.

        Nasrallah said the battle in Aleppo city had changed the path of the Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year.

        Syrian government forces, helped by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militia, drove rebel groups out of east Aleppo in December, in Assad’s most important gain of the war.

        “For six years, Syria faced the risk of the collapse of the state,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech. “This danger has been mostly overcome.”

        No mas. Westminster Agility Trials are ON! Go Bodee!
        See you in another thread, after the dog show. Feb 15, just in time to misunderstand Netanyahu visit… Piper, Choc Lab oops…

      • polopoint

        . . . so says, I guess, the other more smarterer man in the room, eh?

  • CaliforniaStark

    The Kurds deserve their own country. Both the U.S. and Russia should support the Kurdish areas of Syria and Iraq becoming an independent nation. Not only would there be a geopolitical benefit, it is the right thing to do. A secular Kurdistan would hopefully encourage others in the Mideast to attempt to live without extremist theological rule.

    • Psalms564

      To add to the mix, I’m sure Iran will not want Kurds involved, since they fear their own restive minorities. On the other hand, Israel would very much like an independent Kurdish state, given relatively warm relationship between Jews and Kurds.
      Obama’s decision to empower Iran certainly threw the whole thing into quiet a bit of disarray.
      to betray my own bias, I really hope Uncle Jacob and cousin Yosef get good of it somehow. History gives me hope.

      • CaliforniaStark

        Certain the eight million Kurds in Iran should have the choice of joining a newly independent Kurdistan. The U.S. should support this right. It should be a topic of discussion in any future negotiations with the Iranians.

        • What about Turkey, Iraq and Syria?

        • polopoint

          As if.

        • political correctness czar

          Turkey will never agree to an independent Kurdistan. They will go to war over it.

    • Andrew Allison
    • If the West supported Kosovo, I think we should also support Kurdistan.

    • polopoint

      “Geo-political benefit” is in the eye of the beholder, I would say.

      (but, yes, it is the right thing to do, and this problem won’t just go away)

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