Syria: Clash of interests - Dr. Bruno Surdel | Eurasia Diary -

24 May, Friday

Syria: Clash of interests - Dr. Bruno Surdel

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The Syrian problem has again hit the agenda of the world. If we say that this problem will be solved any time soon, we probably will not be mistaken. The actualization of this topic in recent days is also related to it. Eurasia Diary asks the explanation of the situation from Dr. Bruno Surdel, an expert at Centre for International Relations Warsaw.

The attitude of Russia, Iran, and Turkey to Kurdish powers (YPG/PKK)

The dismantling of the so-called Rojava – YPG-held territories in North-Eastern Syria – is in the interest of all three powers involved in the Astana Process. For Turkey, YPG/PYD is an extension of the PKK – Kurdistan Workers’ Party which is designated as a terrorist organization both by the USA and the European Union. Ankara views the further existence of a semi-autonomous Kurdish region south of Turkey’s borders as the existential threat to the peace and stability of its own Kurdish-majority parts of the country and to the country itself. The special problem arises from the dominant ideology in the YPG-controlled territories which is Öcalanism – based on the views of one of the PKK’s founding fathers – Abdullah Öcalan. In other words, Turkish authorities are convinced that the so-called Rojava is a military and training base for PKK engaged in the bloody conflict with Ankara for more than three decades. Therefore, President Erdogan decided to launch the „Olive Branch” campaign to capture the ‘canton’ of Afrin, and now would be happy to take Manbij. Then he is prepared to send Turkish TSK – military and Free Syrian Army units deeper east of Euphrates – if the Russians and Americans allow. This is, however, not very likely.

Iran on its part would be more than happy to see „Rojava” again in Damascus’ control as Tehran has its own issues with PJAK - the Kurdistan Free Life Party conducting attacks in Iran. The Iranians see the YPG-held region as a threat to itself. On the other hand, Russia is supporting the Syrian regime in its efforts to retake the Kurdish-controlled areas for strategic and energy-related reasons: We remember what happened to Russian „Wagner” group mercenaries who tried to capture a Conoco gas plant, near the city of Deir el-Zour on 7 February 2018. Moscow has no appetite for backing the „Rojava” the Russians have seen as a US project directed both against the so-called Islamic State and Assad’s ambitions to get back the whole of Syria under his control. But -  of course – the Kremlin doesn’t wish more YPG-held territories to be captured by Turkey and Turkish-led Arab forces. This is why they showed some indirect support to PYD/YPG in the past – to counter Ankara’s ambitions in the region.

The possibility of Erdogan-Assad agreement or compromise on Syria and Kurdish problem

President Erdogan would prefer Assad control of currently YPG-held areas in Syria rather than them to be under the Kurdish PYD flag. No doubt about that. So an agreement is possible and I think negotiations are ongoing with the Russian involvement which is crucial. As for the „Assad issue”, the actual Turkish position has changed since 2011 when Ankara expected that the regime in Damascus was doomed. Now they more favor the realpolitik. Actually, all the parties to the Astana Process: Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are waiting for the American withdrawal – which, however, has been postponed for now. A compromise is possible but the real issue is what happens to Idlib and Turkish-controlled territories. President Putin and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said clearly they wished all ‘foreign’ forces to leave Syria. It means the Turkish military too. The Russians see themselves excluded from that category of being ‘foreign’ as they were ‘invited’ by the Assad regime to Syria... But Ankara cannot simply leave. The Turks have established themselves in Syria to stay a longer time there. It remains to be seen what happens next. Much depends on American moves.

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