Social media and Turkish media has been ablaze over the last few days, with rumours swirling that the Russian military and Kurdish YPG militias in Syria have “struck a deal”.
In reality, Russia and the Kurds have come to an agreement in respect of certain areas east of the Euphrates whereby Kurdish militias will “provide security” for Russian forces now operating in a region that previously had been dominated by the United States and its proxies.
According to a statement from The Russian Center for Syria’s reconciliation,
“Co-chair of the committee Nuri Mahmud, who represents the Kurdish militias, stated that the Kurdish units were ready to ensure the security of the Russian servicemen, deployed along the eastern shore of the Euphrates”.
From a military and logistical standpoint, the agreement is meaningless for two reasons. First of all, there is hardly anyone left to fight in Eastern Syria and secondly, because Russia doesn’t require the kind of “security” the Kurdish militas could attempt to provide in the first place.
The agreement therefore is a political one that is cleverly disguised as a military one. Here’s why:
1. Taking advantage of US “treachery”
When US President Trump promised Turkish President Erdogan that Washington will no longer send arms to Kurdish militias in Syria, many inclining the Turkish Foreign Minister who announced Trump’s promise to the world, had doubts about America’s sincerity. Statements from both US and Kurdish official subsequent to the statement by the Turkish Foreign Minister, have only increased the distrust.
The brief thaw in Turkey-US relations that stemmed from the phone-call, was at best a 48 hour period when quiet scepticism replaced scathing anti-US statements from major Turkish officials, including President Erdogan. That brief re-honeymoon, is now over.
Because Turkey has clearly decided that Donald Trump’s “promise” was at best incomplete and otherwise a total lie, Erdogan has just slammed the US on several fronts from supporting the hated and illegal Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), to exercising arbitrary justice against Turks in US courts, to threatening Turkey over its lawful relations with Iran–and these are just the highlights.
While Turkey feels betrayed by a USA which still arms the Kurds, the Kurds themselves feel betrayed by a US which openly plays fast and loose with an alliance that clearly is one of convenience for the US, rather than one of meaning or purpose.
Because of this, many leftist Kurds have searched their collective memories and remembered a Soviet Union which was generally supportive and a modern Russia that while not supportive of Kurdish ethno-nationalism, has always been restrained (at times surprisingly so) in condemning Kurdish movements whose existences predates the illegal US invasion of Syria.
In summary, the Kurds have learned what all parties in the Middle East have learned: Russia does what it says and the US does not.
2. Russia helping to solve a Turkish problem
Turkey continues to position its military against Kurdish forces in and around parts of the Idlib and Aleppo Governorates of Syria and Russia has done nothing to stop them. At the same time, Russia has listened to Turkey when Ankara has stated that it is willing to sit with Kurds at the forthcoming peace conference in Sochi, so long as they are not the PKK aligned YPG/PYD.
While the Kurdish forces Russia is speaking to are YPG forces, Russia may well be preparing to “moderate” the Kurds to the satisfaction of both Syria and Turkey who have an nearly identical disdain for the radical group. If Russia can turn elements of the militarily over-rated YPG into a moderate force that can accept a shallow victory instead of a bloodsoaked defeat, this could be a win-win situation for Turkey and Syria, as well as the more sensible elements of the Kurdish insurgency. Russia is willing to host crypto-Takfiri groups at Sochi for the same reason.
Having previously publicly rejected the idea of forming a nation-state after witnessing the crushing of Iraqi Kurds by Iraqi armed forces with the political support of both Iran and Turkey, Syrian Kurds realise that they cannot accomplish radical secessionism alone, while the Trump phone call means that the US could drop Syrian Kurds as easily as Washington dropped Iraqi Kurds, the moment they feel that Kurdish ambitions are not in-line with US ambitions. Furthermore, Kurdish regions of Syria, are generally far beyond the defined lines of Israeli aggression. Therefore, the Zionist allies of the Syrian Kurds are of little practical use, especially in light of Turkey’s rapidly deteriorating relationship with the Israeli regime.
In this sense, Russia’s respectful relationship with Turkey, is a clearer sign to Turkey of Russia’s sincere intentions to balance all sides in regional conflicts, while the US is, in Turkish eyes (which happen to be correct), both dishonest and duplicitous. In this sense, while Turkey will still neutralise some Kurdish militants west of the Euphrates, the Russian agreement with Kurds east of the Euphrates, shows that Russia is using diplomatic tact to help solve a Turkish problem, however much it might temporarily grate Ankara to see a YPG flag beside any partner.
Turkey is neutralising the Kurds on one side, while to the east, Russia is doing the same thing through compromise and accord. The end result is that Syrian Kurds will be less likely to advocate for a radical position, knowing that the may end up with zero support if they insist on such a position. In other words, if the choice is between survival without extremism through Russia or annihilation by facing Turkey without US help, the choice becomes an obvious one, especially if Syrian Kurds are aware of the Iraqi example, which they most certainly are.
3. Pushing the US out of Syria
One of the Trump administration’s most prominent bogus rationales for illegally maintaining an occupying force in Syria is to “aid the Kurds”. However, the Kurds now know that the US does not have their “interests” at heart as all it took as a phone call from the Turkish President for the US to declare that the Kurds should no longer be armed.
If the US loses the trust of its Kurdish proxies, while Russia gains a trust that was never specially up for grabs, Russia will have in effect, shown that as a partner of Syria and Turkey, it has never made the Kurds a promise it cannot keep, nor has it ever overtly gone against the Kurds, even when its partners have rightly stood up for their own positions which state that Kurdish ethno-nationalism threatens their security.
In this sense. Russia has partly “taken” a US ally by winning their trust through honesty and realism, all the while neutralising a threat to Turkey and Syria, by co-opting moderate elements among Kurds who may be willing to agree that a respectful agreement is better than the combination of working with a deceitful United States on the one side and getting crushed by superior Turkish forces on the other. Syria itself has recently stated that in a post-war environment, it is willing to engage in peaceful discussions with moderate Kurds about their concerns. Russia is paving the way for just such a discussion.
While Russia is not a Kurdish “ally”, Russia’s rhetorical neutrality in the face of Turkey’s rhetoric on the Kurds and its realism when it comes to handling Kurds may have pacified the extremist elements within Syrian Kurdish groups, set up a road map for satisfying Turkey and Syria’s security fears, and all the while taking advantage of the US exposing its own disloyalty to its most loyal proxies.
Furthermore, as the primary obstacle to a settlement in Syria is now Israeli aggression in south west Syria, it behoves all powers, to consolidate a peace effort in northern Syria, so as to free the Syrian Arab Army to bolster defences near the illegally occupied Golan Heights.
In short, Russia has turned a dirty game into a a compromise in the making, one which doesn’t make grandiose promises, but keeps the promises that are made.