Russia to Mediate Talks Between Syrian Kurds, Assad Regime

Key quotes from Putin's 2018 marathon presser

The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) have turned to Russia to mediate talks between them and dictator Bashar al-Assad amid threats of an impending Turkish offensive into their territory in northern Syria, a senior Kurdish official reportedly declared on Monday.

President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Middle East similarly claimed that Russia would intervene in these discussions.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the political wing of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has maintained control of nearly a third of Syria in the northern part of the country along the Turkish border with the help of the outgoing U.S military. Assad controls about half of the country and Turkish-backed forces, al-Qaeda, and to a lesser extent, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), hold the rest.

Turkey considers the PYD and YPG an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) communist terrorist group waging an insurgency on Turkish soil and has vowed to annihilate the Syrian Kurds.

Soon after U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration announced plans to withdraw the 2,000 American troops deployed to Syria, a delegation from the PYD traveled to Moscow on December 14 to ask for help in repelling the prospective Turkish offensive, Rudaw reported, adding:

In their visit, the Kurdish delegation presented a roadmap for dialogue focusing on protecting northern Syria “according to a comprehensive defense system of Syria from external threats,” constitutionally including their region in a unified Syria, and fair distribution of economic wealth in the country, Bedran Ciya Kurd, a senior official in the Kurdish administration, told local ANHA news on Monday.

They asked Russia to mediate such a dialogue. Moscow has a lot of influence over Syria’s affairs as Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally and a friend to Turkey.

Ciya Kurd reportedly alleged that Russia’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the request, saying Moscow would take their role as mediator “very seriously” and were ready to “work together to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.”

He indicated, “the Russians are expected to formulate a plan for new dialogue based on the Kurdish proposal.”

Ciya Kurd’s remarks echo comments made by Putin’s envoy to the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, in an interview with Bloomberg late last month.

The envoy indicated that Russia is poised to mediate negotiations between Damascus and the Syrian Kurds to allow for the return of Assad regime troops and eventual withdrawal of Turkish forces, Bloomberg noted on December 26.

A Syrian Kurdish leader explained to Reuters last month that the Kurds are trying to devise a plan to protect themselves from Turkey before American forces leave the country.

On December 27, top Kurdish politician Aldar Xelil confirmed to Reuters that a Kurdish delegation had recently visited Moscow and are planning to make another trip to Moscow to urge Damascus  “fulfill its sovereign duty.”

“Our contacts with Russia and the regime are to look for clear mechanisms to protect the northern border. We want Russia to play an important role to achieve stability,” Xelil explained.

“To repel a Turkish attack, we are discussing various options … We have made contact with Russia, France and European Union countries to help,” Badran Jia Kurd, a senior Kurdish official who went to Moscow in mid-December, also told Reuters, adding “It is the responsibility of the Syrian government to protect the borders of this region and this is under discussion.”

Kurds have declared autonomy in northern Syria, something that the Assad regime has indicated it may be open to maintaining as long as the Kurds remain part of Syria. For most of the ongoing Syrian war, Kurdish fighters have avoided a direct confrontation with Syrian government forces.

YPG troops have turned to Assad and Russia in the past to counter attacks from pro-Syrian opposition Turkey. In the past, the Russian and Iranian-backed Assad regime has asked for territory in exchange for assistance against the Turks.

Although Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict, the two countries have worked together on trying to end the war. U.S. support for the Syrian Kurds has angered Turkey, pushing Ankara closer to Moscow.

On December 29, a high-level Turkish delegation traveled to Moscow for talks on Syria.

At least for now, Russia has expressed empathy for Turkey’s concerns over the YPG, leaving the fate of the Syrian Kurds in limbo, Al-Monitor reported.

The Syrian Kurds have accused Washington of abandoning them, arguing that a U.S. withdrawal from Syria amounts to a “betrayal” that leaves them vulnerable to attacks by Turkey and would lead to an Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) revival.

In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria announcement, high-ranking members of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an American-allied Kurdish and Arab alliance, also met with Damascus, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a group that uses ground sources to monitor the conflict, reported.

Moreover, a PKK delegation also flew to Damascus last month for discussions over the withdrawal of American forces and the Turkish offensive into Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria, Bas News reported, citing an anonymous source.

Iranian- and Russian-backed forces loyal to Assad and Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters are already building up their military presence in northern Syria.

In recent days, criticism of the Trump administration’s decision to pull out from Syria reportedly prompted the American president to slow down the U.S. military withdrawal process.

Turkey has also announced plans to delay its incursion into northern Syria to clear the area of the YPG.


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