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Why Russia is advocating on behalf of Syrian Kurds

By Paul Iddon 24/2/2017
A member of the YPJ, the women’s arm of the Kurdish YPG, survey’s a battlefield 40km from Raqqa last November. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
A member of the YPJ, the women’s arm of the Kurdish YPG, survey’s a battlefield 40km from Raqqa last November. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
Russia has been pushing for the inclusion of Syrian Kurdish parties, particularly the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD), in negotiations aimed at ending the Syrian conflict. 

In January, Russia produced a draft constitution for Syria which advocates ethnic, linguistic, and cultural rights for non-Arab Syrian minorities. In mid-February, the Russians held a conference of Kurdish groups in Moscow, leading some in the Turkish media to point out it was held on the anniversary of Turkey's capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, back in February 15, 1999. 

Moscow also recently reiterated its belief that neither the PKK nor the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the PYD, are terrorist organizations. Turkey, on the other hand, has long sought to exclude the PYD/YPG from negotiations and/or any ceasefire agreements, like ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, so it can continue to freely target them.

Russian state media reports on these developments frequently point out that Moscow aims to foster intra-Syrian talks between the Kurds and the regime about the country's future. Following the February 15th conference, for example, Sputnik News reported that: “Syrian Kurds have discussed creation of a Kurdish federation with Syrian government representatives. Russia is acting as a guarantor of their talks with the Syrian government on federalization.” 

The Syrian regime, opposition, Turkey, and the United States rejected the Syrian Kurds' plan for a federal Syria, which they declared in the northern territories they control last March. The original name of this federal region, Democratic Federal System for Rojava-Northern Syria, was changed in December to the Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria, conspicuously leaving out any reference to Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava). 

“Russia has been steadily following its official line on the Kurdish aspirations from the very beginning,” Timur Akhmetov, an analyst on Russia's Middle East foreign policy, told Rudaw English. “First of all, Kurds should have cultural and a limited scope of political rights, but the negotiations on the scope of these rights must be conducted after the war is finished and political situation in the country is stabilized.”

“Secondly,” he added, “any Kurdish autonomy must be implemented within a strong state. Russian decision-makers are, in a way, trying to offer the Russian model of federation, with autonomous regions having very limited political powers and broad cultural rights.”

“Russia has made it clear on many occasions that independent Kurdistan in the Middle East is not acceptable, since it can trigger a wave of crises in the neighboring regions,” Akhmetov clarified. 

“Russia is trying to win over Syria Kurds with such statements to increase chances of the Assad regime’s survival,” he added, “More cooperative Kurds can be presented by Russia as a part of the Syrian opposition and be used to mitigate the opposition’s political demands.”

Also, on the military front, Akhmetov reasons, the Russians see the Kurds as “a very robust military power on the ground,” so are “naturally trying to keep the cold peace between the regime and PYD while dedicating all its resources to fighting against the armed opposition in other Syrian provinces.”

The PYD/YPG did not join the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, but instead consolidated control over their regions and have been fighting off militant groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS ever since. The Syrian regime and PYD/YPG have clashed in the past in cities in PYD-controlled territory where the regime have maintained a small enclave. These clashes, however, never did escalate into all out war between the two. 

“Turkey is more of a concern,” from Russia's perspective, Michael Kofman, a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, told Rudaw English. “Keeping Syria unitary is to prevent Turkey from being threatened by Kurdish independence, which would probably result in Turkish-Kurdish fighting inside Syrian borders for a prolonged period.”

Asked if this means that Moscow’s aim to keep a unified Syrian state is at least partially predicated on preventing a destabilizing outcome for the wider region, Kofman simply concluded by saying: “It's best for all concerned, except the Kurds.”


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Muraz Adzhoev | 24/2/2017
In fact Russia has had to change its position and has already took seriousely into account that actually it is not possible any more to prevent separation and division of failed Iraq and Syria, as well as to avoid establishment of independent Kurdistan. The question of greater importance now concerns only sovereign national borders of independent Kurdistan and is the very important subject of different interests of different leading world powers and regional players. That is why today national unity and solidarity of the Kurdish people has been under direct and indirect attacks conducted by external enemies and internal traitors.
kurt basar | 25/2/2017
Why? Because Rusian's know true objective of the Turkish terrorist state & their corrupt Salafi Muslim goons, which are resattle all of the Kurdish areas with those 50 thousand plus Turkic Asian & Arab Muslim brotherhood terrorists and eventualy annex the Syria to the Turkey. Syria Historicaly is a Kurdish land and at this historical times Kurd's must fight for "to be or not to be" for their independence and notthing else. god help them
Dutchman | 25/2/2017
Who cares what Putins plans are for the future of Syria? The future for Syria and Kurdistan is to the SDF and the international coalition. The future for Assad and Putin is the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Vibe | 25/2/2017
Nonsense! Russia doesn't care about anyone let alone Kurds!
A Kurd in exile | 25/2/2017
We the Kurds have no one to blame except ourselves and our useless political leaders. We are a nation of 40-50 million people, divided into God knows how many pieces (groups, clans, political parties, etc.); and each part is playing with a different tone; each group or party is in the pocket of and controlled by a different foreign power (mainly Turkey and Iran). Abba Eban (the late Foreign Minister of Israel) used to say about the Palestinians that they "never missed an opportunity to miss and opportunity". That statement perfectly applies to us the Kurds as well. We have never missed an opportunity to miss and opportunity. After WWI, when every nation in the world and the Middle East acquired independence, our forefathers spent their time and energy to win war for Kemal Atatürk. After WWII and in the 60's and 70's we the Kurds spent our time and energy to win war for the former Shah of Iran against Saddam Hussein. During the last several years, again we the Kurds have been spending our time and energy to win war for the nu-appreciative East and West against ISIS. During all those years, we have never had the wisdom to stop and think about our own nation, our own interests, and the fact that we are the greatest nation in the world without having an independent country of own. Our enemies have always been able to manipulate us and use one part of our people against another part of our people. The rise of ISIS gave us the Kurds a golden opportunity to, at least, unite our people and territories in northern Iraq and Syria and establish an independent country. But, NO! How could we do that?! We are Kurds and we have God Almighty’s curse upon us. We are incapable of managing our own affairs. We have to remain under the control of other nations. I don’t know why I am not crying blood right now!!!

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