Syrian Kurds’ aspirations for a semi-autonomous region has suffered a blow with Russian insistence that a solution to the conflict must involve the transfer of control over the Turkish-Syrian border to Damascus.
“We are convinced that achieving sustainable long-term stabilisation and security in this region of Syria, in the country, and in the region as a whole, is possible only on the basis of the establishment, first of all, of its sovereignty, territorial integrity,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters. “This means transferring, ultimately, to the control of the lawful Syrian government of all national territories, including the border with Turkey.”
Zakharova’s comments are likely to be met with concerns in Syria’s Kurdish region which, along with Kurds in neighbouring Turkey, Iraq and Iran have aspirations to create their own state. With President Bashar Al-Assad’s control greatly reduced during the Syria civil war, Kurdish groups expanded their sphere of influence by creating a semi- autonomous zone. Roughly a third of the country came under the control of Kurdish-led Syrian militia backed by the US in the battle with Daesh.
Groups like the Syrian Protection Unit (YPG), seen by Turkey as a terrorist organisation, led the ground battle in north-eastern Syria with US help to regain territory from Daesh. Their control of the Turkish-Syria border region became a major flashpoint with Ankara’s insistence that the US had empowered a terrorist organisation that was obstructing its own efforts to return 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Donald Trump’s withdrawal of US troops last week was viewed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a green light to launch a military assault to regain the territory from Kurdish militants.
The Kurdish groups struck a deal with the Russian-backed government in Damascus for protection on Sunday. Moscow reacted by moving some of its troops in to positions where they can patrol the front lines between the Syrian and Turkish forces.
Syrians in the north-eastern region have reacted angrily to the rapprochement between Assad and the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Protests broke out in several areas of eastern Syria yesterday against the entry of regime forces into their towns and villages. Locals are said to be afraid that regime opponents will be arrested and that young men will be conscripted into the regime army.
Next week, Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to meet his Turkish counterpart in Sochi where the two leaders are to discuss ways to end Ankara’s military operations. A solution to return Al-Assad’s sovereignty throughout Syria, favoured by Moscow, and limiting Kurdish rule over north-eastern Syria are also on the table.