TurkReich’s Delicate Game with Russia Over the Syrian Kurds

The Turks and the Russians have conflicts of interest regarding the Kurdish question in Syria, but the Russians have more benefit to side with Turkey rather than it does to risk prolonging a war Putin wants settled before the upcoming Presidential elections.  But if the Afrin operation is prolonged, Russia’s incentive to offer Turkey a pass on its efforts to destroy the Kurds in Syria might well end.

Are Turkey and Russia at odds in northern Syria?

Has the plan already worked, since the Kurds have asked Assad for protection?

That is the case in Afrin. I also think it is in Russia’s interest to see that the operation doesn’t drag on. But it also appears that concessions have been made to Turkey in order to gain later concessions from the Turks in Sochi. I cannot say if the Russians have been successful or not because I do not know what has been going on behind the scenes. Nevertheless there seems to be a clear desire to win the Turks as allies, or at least to get them to participate in a stable agreement, because everyone knows that most of the rebel groups in Syria’s Kurdish region are operating out of Turkey.

That means that Turkey will get what it wants and hinder the formation of a Kurdish state in Syria?

Russia has been working with the Syrian-Kurdish PYD party for a long time — in part to counterbalance Turkish influence but also to create a type of buffer zone against other advancing rebel groups. It wants to keep the Kurds from thinking of themselves as a US proxy army. So far, Russia has shown an interest in a certain amount of Kurdish autonomy. Nonetheless, it has had little success selling the Assad regime on the idea. Apparently Russia still isn’t in the position of being able to dictate terms to the Assad regime. One of the big reasons for that is simply because it has to reach some sort of agreement with Iran. And Iran certainly has no appetite for Kurdish autonomy.

Kristian Brakel is an expert on Islamic studies and the director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Istanbul.

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