The War on Syria has taken many twists and turns over the past six years, but the conventional part of the campaign seems to be drawing to an end. Russia’s anti-terrorist intervention turned the tables on the “moderate opposition rebels” and forever precluded any chance that they’d succeed in violently toppling the democratically elected and legitimate government of President Assad. The militant promotion of regime change is no longer in the cards for Syria, and great advances have been made on the anti-terrorist front against Daesh, but that doesn’t mean that the US isn’t still a danger to the Arab Republic.
Channeling the adaptive strategies of Hybrid War, the US changed its premier goal in Syria and is now seeking to geopolitically fragment the country to compensate for the failure of its years-long regime change operation, and it’s using the PYD-YPG Kurds as its battering ram for doing so. This proxy group leads the “Syrian Democratic Forces’” (SDF) offensive against Daesh in Raqqa and is already in control of a broad swath of northeastern Syria. The Trump Administration announced last week that it will be providing heavy weaponry to the SDF to aid in their anti-terrorist operations, but this is just a front for creating the core of a conventional army in the heart of the Mideast, trained and advised by the US’ special forces.
It’s probably for this reason and the belated realization of what’s really unfolding in the region that Russia has noticeably cooled in its support for the Syrian Kurds lately. President Putin said on Monday that Russia isn’t supplying arms to this group and that it maintains contact with them “even at least for avoiding possible collisions and situations that could create threats to our servicemen”, which is a lot different of a tone than the full-throated endorsement that Moscow’s representatives have previously given to the group in arguing that they should be incorporated into the multilateral peace processes of Astana and Geneva. Part of the reason for this change in attitude clearly has to do with the success of the Russian-Turkish rapprochement, but it can’t be discounted that an equally powerful driving motivator is that Moscow finally came to terms with the US’ new end game in Syria.
Here’s what the US is aiming to accomplish nowadays:
- Construct A Conventional Kurdish Military Force In “Rojava”
The US endeavors to transform the YPG militia into a formidable conventional military force inside the conquered territories of northeastern Syria, strong enough to resist any Turkish invasion or post-Daesh liberation attempt by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). American advisors and military trainers are instrumental in facilitating this process, but it would be incomplete without the shipment of heavy weaponry which was just announced. The combination of elite instructors and state-of-the-art warfighting tools is expected to eventually result in the formation of an impressive fighting force which would be capable of holding its own, though with the caveat being that this would only remain so as long as the US’ three military facilities in Tabqa, Ayn al-Arab (known to the Western audience as “Kobani”), and Hasakah remain in place.
- Forge A “Decentralized”/”Federalized” Statelet In Northern Syria
Despite the US’ public statements to the contrary, Washington is hoping to use its new conventional Kurdish military proxies as the vehicle for forging a “decentralized”/”federalized” statelet in northern Syria which could “legitimize” their geopolitical designs in the region. Without the aforementioned development of their armed forces, the US’ allies cannot succeed in staving off or responding to a Turkish invasion or an SAA liberation operation, both of which could be launched to stop this plan dead in its tracks. The US is therefore using the Kurds as a military ‘deterrent’ of sorts in safeguarding its adapted Hybrid War objectives in Syria, which are no longer about forcibly overthrowing President Assad but have morphed to become the creation of a fortified outpost in the geostrategic four-nation juncture point of transnational “Kurdistan”.
- Use The “Second Geopolitical ‘Israel’” To Exert Regional Influence
The US’ ambitions to carve a “Kurdistan” out of the Mideast are akin to repeating the pattern of “Israel’s” creation in the sense that a foreign power is forming a proxy statelet out of the territory of other countries for hegemonic divide-and-rule purposes. This entity could become a terrorist safe haven for other anti-government groups – both Kurdish and otherwise— fighting in Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Moreover, pertaining to the Arab Republic at the center of this article, the US plans to take advantage of the fact that much of Syria’s freshwater, electricity (hydropower via Tabqa), agricultural, and fossil fuel resources either lay within YPG-occupied territory or the areas that they covet, meaning that the abovementioned Kurdish “decentralized” or “federalized” statelet would wield disproportionate strategic influence over the rest of Syria if it were allowed to come into existence.
There are two important processes unfolding concurrently alongside the US’ Kurdish end game for Syria, and it’s important to briefly touch upon them because it’ll soon be demonstrated how they could greatly contribute to the most realistic peaceful ‘compromise’ scenario between Damascus and the Kurds, however imperfect it may end up being in practice:
* Nationwide “De-Escalation/Safe Zones”
It seems inevitable that the “de-escalation” zones will eventually give rise to “decentralized” units inside of Syria, especially if they’re implemented nationwide, though the latter is exactly what Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says that he spoke to US President Trump about during his visit to DC last week. According to Russia’s top diplomat, the two discussed how “this practice will be extended to the rest of the territory”, which additionally infers that more guarantor states will have to sign on to this agreement in order to supply the necessary “peacekeepers” for enforcing it, at least insofar as it relates to “Rojava”.
* UNSC Res. 2254’s Mandate For “Constitutional Reform”
This December 2015 document stipulates that Syria must reform its constitution and hold new elections within 18 months, meaning that the deadline for its implementation is next month in June 2017. The timeframe will probably be extended by an upcoming UNSC Resolution, but the main point here is that both Russia and the US agree that Syria must amend its supreme law of the land as a form of political ‘compromise’ in ending the country’s crisis. It’s naturally foreseeable that this could involve “decentralization” or “federalization”, especially given how the Russian-written “draft constitution” explicitly calls for the first one and ambiguously leaves open the possibility for the second.
Given the five factors elaborated on above, it’s possible to prognosticate the three most likely scenarios for Syria’s near future as they relate to the US’ plans for “Kurdistan”. The first two deal with conflicts and have been discussed at length before by various analysts, while the last one is original and presents what might be the only peaceful compromise ‘solution’ to this problem:
* Turkey Invades East Of The Euphrates
This scenario has been talked about quite a lot over the past couple of weeks ever since Erdogan openly threatened it, though the author was one of the first to predict this course of action in early March following the liberation of Palmyra. The guiding idea is that Turkey’s national security interests – and one can argue, even its very existence as a state – are seriously jeopardized by the US’ “Kurdistan” plans in northern Syria, and that unless Ankara can replace the ruling PYD-YPG militia with the pro-Turkish “Kurdish National Council” offshoot of the Iraqi-based Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), then it would have no choice but to invade northern Syria east of the Euphrates in an attempt to take out what it views to be one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the Mideast.
* Civil War Breaks Out Between Arabs And Kurds
If the Kurds aren’t stopped in “Rojava”, then they might carry through on their threats to create a Mediterranean corridor through Idlib and Latakia provinces, which would bring the YPG/SDF into conflict with the SAA and spark an actual civil war between Syria’s Arab and Kurdish populations. This could be offset through a territorial ‘swap’ of sorts such as the one which the author forecast in the latest edition of his Context Countdown radio show, which in that case would see the Kurds surrender any forthcoming conquest of Deir ez Zor and/or Raqqa to the SAA in exchange for Damascus recognizing their self-proclaimed statelet and granting them economic transit rights to the sea. If that plan doesn’t work, however, then the only alternative to the SAA waging a liberation war in the YPG-/SDF-occupied territories would be the final proposal explained below.
* US Gains Control Of The Kurdish “De-Escalation” Zone And “Decentralizes”/”Federalizes” Syria
The last scenario might be difficult to imagine at this point, but it’s based off of an adaptation of the two concurrent processes unfolding alongside the US’ “Kurdistan” plans. There’s no chance that the Kurds will agree to permit troops from the Tripartite of Russia, Iran, and/or Turkey to patrol their conquered territories if the “de-escalation” zone agreement is extended to that region, though they already have no such problem with the US setting up three bases there. It’s unrealistic to expect the US to pack up and leave after Daesh is defeated, let alone to take with it all of the heavy weaponry that was given to the SDF, so it appears to already be a fait accompli that the only peaceful post-Daesh “solution” in Syria is to eventually integrate the US into the “de-escalation” zone framework by making it the formal “guarantor” of “Rojava”.
Correspondingly, it naturally follows that this state of affairs would be institutionalized through heavy international pressure on Syria to amend its constitution in order to implement “decentralization” or “federalization”, essentially making the US’ “Kurdistan” plans a reality though ideally in exchange for some sort of concessions from Washington and/or reliable assurances that it won’t immediately use this entity for destabilizing the region. In any case, Washington can’t ever be trusted, but this final scenario represents a last-ditch tradeoff to avoid either a Turkish invasion and/or an Arab-Kurdish civil war, with Russia using its influence to convince Turkey and the SAA to abide by the grand deal that it might reach with the US in exchange for Washington doing the same with the YPG Kurds. Granted, this scenario is only feasible so long as Russia lacks the political will to seek a military solution to this pressing problem.
It should be beyond the reasonable doubt of any objective observer that the US has switched its destabilization plans in Syria from seeking President Assad’s violent ouster to endeavoring to carve up the Arab Republic with “Kurdistan”, though it’s equally evident that Russia presently has no desire to directly stop the US’ scheme from succeeding. For a variety of reasons mostly related in one way or another to Moscow’s fear of becoming engulfed in an Afghan-like quagmire, Russia is prioritizing a political “solution” to the War on Syria even at the expense of some of its grand strategic interests such as stopping the creation of a “second geopolitical ‘Israel’”, taking consolation from the fact that it decisively contributed to the defeat of Daesh and at least obtained lasting post-war military–economic influence in Syria.
While Turkey, Iran, and especially Syria itself might feel uncomfortable with Russia reaching any sort of deal with the US over “Kurdistan”, none of them would probably have enough political will to unilaterally contradict Moscow’s wishes in undertaking military action against the prospective Kurdish statelet. Moreover, there’s no reason to believe that Russia would engage in any related discussions with the US on this subject without keeping its Syrian and Tripartite partners in the loop at all times, so whether they’re ultimately satisfied with the outcome of these speculated talks or not, they might still nonetheless be forced to accept that it’s the best possible result that could be hoped for under the circumstances of each of them earlier pledging to abstain from a military solution.
The biggest challenge standing in the way of Damascus and the Tripartite’s desire to stop the “second geopolitical ‘Israel’” is that they each already allowed the US to go too far in its mission creep by setting up three separate bases, dispatching over 1000 troops, and sending heavy weaponry to the Kurds. Russia also demonstrated during and immediately after Trump’s cruise missile strike against the SAA last month that it has absolutely no desire whatsoever to enter into any scenario which could even remotely lead to an armed conflict with the US in Syria (hence the clear statement that it won’t shoot down any future cruise missile salvos), so it wouldn’t make sense for Moscow to abruptly reverse this policy trajectory and threaten to go to war with Washington in expelling the US from “Rojava”.
Keeping in mind Russia’s wish to enter into a “New Détente” with the US, and the chummy relations that Lavrov and Tillerson seem to have cultivated with one another already, it appears ever more likely that both Great Powers are moving towards a strategic convergence of sorts in reaching a compromise ‘solution’ to the War on Syria. It’s not yet known exactly what it is that the US would give up in exchange for possibly securing Russia and its allies’ passive acceptance of a Kurdish statelet in northern Syria, but even the fact that this might prevent or at least delay a larger hot war from breaking out in the near future might be sufficient enough for all parties to agree to it in order to buy more time in preparing for a continuation conflict.
Whatever the case may be and in spite of the author’s respectful disagreement with this approach, it arguably looks like Russia and the US are at the very least deliberating on a deal for “Rojava”, and that it could conceivably involve the US agreeing to become the fourth guarantor in any nationwide implementation of Russia’s “de-escalation” zones and then codifying its existing military position into a post-war political reality through Damascus’ acceptance of the Russian-written “draft constitution”. Again, this is not the optimal solution to the “Kurdish Question”, nor is the author endorsing this scenario, but at this point in time all indications point in this direction and it seems to be the most realistic proposal being pursued behind the scenes, although there are still a multitude of eventualities which could offset it.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.