Home News How Putin "sells friends" or the Afrin Overture against the Kurds

How Putin "sells friends" or the Afrin Overture against the Kurds

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Any peace initiatives of the Kremlin on Syria are a complete bluff and a smoke screen to strengthen Putin’s election image. The real interests of Moscow, which is impoverished under the weight of international sanctions and the unfavorable price environment for energy, are fueling new wars on the long-suffering Syrian land. Russians simply do not have the resources for something more.

“Peace congress” during the war

In Moscow, process continues on organizing the Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi. The Russian president’s special representative for the Syrian settlement, Alexander Lavrentiev, bravely reports that the recent consultations with Iran and Turkey have allowed the approval of almost final lists of participants of an international event of the utmost importance for Putin’s image.

The arrival of delegates of the Congress is scheduled for January 29, and the forum will start on the 30th. According to Lavrentiev, “in order to discuss the full range of issues, it may take more than one day of Congress, and not two, maybe not a week. Most importantly, we want to launch a process of political settlement … “.

It looks like that such a highly advertised Congress is just a nice event for forming a picture of how representatives of various groups of Syrian society are grateful to Russians for their help in the struggle for peace in Syria. And, of course, they were so lacking in the Sochi meeting to solve all the problematic issues among themselves. Now, after seven years of negotiations in various formats, they will finally “demonstrate to the entire international community the aspirations of all groups of the Syrian society to achieve peace on the Syrian land”.

But Russian diplomacy, which organizes the congress, seems to be well aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult to throw dust into the eyes relatively of the Kremlin’s dominant role in Syrian affairs, especially after the reduction of the military contingent in that country. After all, with the weakening of the military positions of the Russians, who have already mistaken the wish for the reality, the vacated place is occupied by the Iranian and Turkish security forces. Not to mention the forces of all kinds of opposition groups.

One of the demonstrations of the insufficient representation of the future congress is the inadmissibility of participation of the representatives of the Syrian Kurdish party Democratic Union (PYD), dominating political force in Northern Syria. The reason for this is that Ankara considers them to be terrorists linked to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) banned in the country. From the point of view of Turks, PYD is no better than ISIS, which is banned in Russia.

But in the case of the Kurdish “Democratic Union”, the USSR and then Russia did not hesitate to provide military and financial support to PKK to undermine the integrity of Turkey. Such are the paradoxes.

In addition to the Kurds, about 40 more armed opposition groups in Syria opposed the holding of the congress and expressed their commitment to demanding the resignation of President Bashar Assad. It means that representatives of the Sunnis, who numerically dominate in Syria, also find themselves outside the framework of the “national dialogue”.

This is in the interests of the Assad regime, which acts in the wake of creating a new Syria in “useful borders for the Alawite”. But in fact, we see an extreme degree of selectivity in the selection of delegates, which reduces the real status of the event.

It is still not clear whether the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Syria, Stefan de Mistura, will arrive at the congress. Moscow still hopes that Antonio Gutterish will send him to Sochi.

If he will be absent, the legitimacy of the event will be further undermined, and its work will be sent to study in Geneva by mail. This looks frivolous in itself. But these shortcomings on the eve of the Congress fade amid of the fact that the war revived again in Syria.

The Turkish government launched a military operation on the territory of Syria, code-named “Olive Branch” on January 19. Ankara declares the need to clear the Afrin region from Kurdish terrorists. The Turks point to the increasingly frequent facts of arms smuggling for the PKK militants through the PYD / YPG network in Afrin to the Aman Mountains region, which is in the south of Turkey. 40 Kurdish “terrorists” were detained on the Syrian-Turkish border in this area during last year.

Turkish Air Force attacked 153 targets in the Afrin area during the first two days of fighting. According to the Prime Minister of Turkey Beneli Yelderim, the operation will be conducted in 4 stages, and the final goal is to create a 30-kilometer security zone. In fact, there is an expansion of the Turkish sphere of influence in Syria. It means that the balance of power in the country is rapidly changing, which mixes all the cards to the negotiators at the congress.

In this context, Russian diplomats admit that the situation “on the ground” remains tense in some areas of Syria, but it cannot affect the talks in Sochi.

Such confidence in their words can only indicate one thing – Moscow was able to reach understanding with the Turks and is well aware about their plans in Afrin. The price of the issue was the betrayal of Kurds by Russia this time.

Why does Moscow mercilessly spill the Kurds

Just before the start of the military campaign in Syria, the Turkish government held a series of consultations, both with its NATO allies and with the Kremlin, as one of the “guarantors” of the truce in the country.

On January 16, Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar visited Brussels to get approval not to oppose their operation against YPG in Afrin from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, General Joseph Dunford.

But the Americans warned the Turks against conducting an offensive military campaign. However, Turkish President Erdogan informed the Turkish parliament that a military operation against the Kurds is inevitable, and the relations between Ankara and Washington reached a boiling point due to the support of the Kurds by the United States.

Erdogan especially strengthened his anti-Kurdish rhetoric when the US announced the plan to create 30,000-strong border forces in Northern Syria, controlled mainly by Kurdish militias. Half of them will be soldiers of the Syrian democratic forces, including Kurds.

Their task should be to patrol the borders that terrorists from the “Islamic state” did not infiltrate into Syria again. In order to reassure the Turkish partners, the Trump administration declined the wording about the planned security forces in Northeast Syria.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Cavusoglu in Vancouver that this armed formation was not correct described.

“It is unfortunate that the whole situation was misrepresented and described, some people gave incorrect interpretations. We do not create a security force on the border”, Tillerson said.

The State Department urged Turkey not to start a war against the Kurds in the Afrin area, but instead focus on fighting against ISIS in the region. But this did not convince the Turks, as well as the warnings of the Syrian Kurds. Representatives of the YPG stated that the Turks and Syrian opposition forces supported by Ankara “will be buried in Afrin one by one” if they will decide to attack.

Except for the Kurds, Damascus was not glad at all of Turkish plans. Faisal Mekdad, Deputy Minister of Defense of the Syrian Arab Republic, said that Turkish planes, which will cross the border, will be attacked and Damascus does not permit the presence of Turkish military formations on its territory.

The special attention should be paid to Moscow’s behavior in the context of the Turkish operation. Kremlin gave the green light to Turkey’s invasion of Afrin.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held talks with the head of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces Hulusi Akar and the head of Turkish intelligence Hakan Fidan in Moscow several hours before the start of the Turkish operation.

No details of the talks were officially announced, except that the parties discussed the situation in the Middle East and other topical issues “of mutual interest”.

It is stated that the talks were held in a “constructive manner”. It is interesting that the word “constructive” was replaced by “fruitful” in article of the pro-government Turkish newspaper The Daily Sabah about the talks, which underlines Russia’s approval of the Turkish operation.

In an interview with CNN Turk, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşooglu clearly indicated that “the Russians will not oppose” the operation, but with respect to the Persians, they were made aware that Ankara has the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

But the future of the Kurds in Afrin depended from the position of the Russians, because Russia partially controls the airspace over the region, and without Moscow’s admission, the Turkish Air Force could not launch the air component of the operation freely in Afrin.

Russians not only guaranteed the Turks that they will not use their air defense systems, but also tied the hands of the Assad government in this matter. The parties also apparently agreed on the positions regarding the new parameters of the de-escalation zone. It seems that it should balance their interests in the province of Aleppo.

Russian servicemen began to leave the area of the city of Afrin on January 18. This was reported by the Turkish Daily Sabah with reference to Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Janikli.

Several Russian military police points were deployed in Afrin in the fall of 2017 to monitor the situation as part of the implementation of agreements on the establishment of de-escalation zones. They had to guarantee the safety of 1.5 million Kurds living in Afrin. But now, the life of these people was threatened because of the banal betrayal by Moscow.

Also, the Astana agreements became a scrap of paper because it does not work, and these agreements are replaced by situational solutions between the guarantors of the Syrian Peace.

As you can see, the Russian leadership betrayed not only Kurds in Afrin, but also painfully struck Syria’s territorial integrity. Now, part of its lands passes into the Turkish zone of responsibility, and Erdogan’s hostility to the Assad regime is well known.

Again, everything is simple. Russians can you do everything to satisfy the appetite of the Turks in front of the Congress in Sochi and to show the “victorious march” of Putin’s policy in Syria.

The results of “Putin’s Provocation” in Afrin

For the first time since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the government in Damascus ordered its armed forces to allow the free movement of Kurdish reinforcements after the start of the Turkish operation in Afrin, which move through the provinces of Khaseka and Aleppo to help their fellow tribesmen in the canton of Afrin.

The redeployed Kurdish units must strengthen the position of YPG in the enclave during the Turkish operation. Kurds are able to counter 20-30 thousand well-trained fighters against the Turkish ground operation for defense of YPG in Afrin.

At the same time, their motivation of Kurds for protecting their own land is much higher than the motive for the invasion of Turkish opponents. Also, Turkish military showed average results in terms of their effectiveness in the battles with ISIS in Syria.

In order to somehow reassure the worried regime of Assad, who after the betrayal of the Kurds in Afrin was thinking hard about such a fate for itself, Moscow launched a rumor that the Turks would help defeat the fighters of “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham” associated with Al Qaeda in the province Idlib. This is hard to believe, because the main priority for Ankara will be Kurds in any conditions.

Another message of the Russians for Assad concerns the idea that the war of Turks and Kurds from the YPG will weaken the positions of the latter on the “non-Kurdish territories” freed from ISIS. And it will be possible to achieve the transfer of territory in the region of Deir-e-Zor in the hands of the Assad regime in the near future.

There are also rumors that if the Kurds in Afrin will recognize the sovereignty of the regime in Damascus and return to its control, the Turkish operation will immediately end. But it is very difficult to believe in this too, for the reason that Erdogan is not interested in strengthening Assad.

As can be seen from the above, Russia is very interested in a new large-scale confrontation in Syria – “all against all”. The Turkish invasion of Afrin is just an overture for the big conflict between Turkey and Kurds in other regions of Syria, and even with the Iraqi Kurds. This will entail the activation of the PKK in the territory of Turkey.

Of course, one of the most important results of the new round of escalation will be the aggravation of relations between Washington and Ankara. Turks are rocking the boat of Euro-Atlantic solidarity with help the Russians.  By Turkish opinion, the operation “Olive branch” is served as a tool to strengthen security on the south-eastern border of the Alliance. At the same time, they very complain that the Allies do not provide proper assistance in the fight against terrorism.

The concentration of Kurds on counteraction to the Turkish military operation will lead to the fact that a significant part of the Syrian democratic forces will be diverted to the defense of Afrin, and it means that the positions of the Kurds will be weakened in the area of Rakka and Khaseka, where they were the key element in the victory over ISIS.

It cannot be ruled out that the Syrian special services will not take advantage of the moment to revive the ISIS in these areas, and then, the Assad army will returned economically valuable areas rich in oil and having fertile lands from the Kurds under the pretext of fighting ISIS.

Indirectly, this thesis is confirmed by the Iranian side. In particular, the Iranian Foreign Ministry stressed that deepening the Afrin crisis will greatly contribute to the rise of terrorist groups in Northern Syria.

In addition to the decisive consequences, the resumption of war in Syria is also beneficial for purely material reasons for Russians. The point is that certain circles in Damascus have already started talking about the fact that besides military assistance, economic support is also needed to restore the country.

It sounds like the idea that since Russia is the dominant force in Syria, and then it needs to invest heavily in the process of financing post-conflict reconstruction. In this case, the Syrians would like to see their country restored following the example of Chechnya.

But in conditions of international sanctions and low oil prices, Moscow generally does not have the resources for such purposes. The Russian side can offer only weapons and a “special contingent” for new wars and destruction.

In sum, it becomes finally clear that Moscow is the biggest beneficiary of new confrontations in Syria, which deprives it of the moral right to put forward peaceful initiatives like the Sochi Congress.

IR

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