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Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Syrian Kurds - the latest battleground for US and Russia

The two world powers, the US and Russia, are seemingly very serious about carving out their spheres of influence in autonomous Kurdish districts of northern Syria.

Russian diplomats have put their weight behind a powerful Kurdish politician at the Syrian peace talks in Switzerland while the Americans sent a top official to Kurdish-controlled territories in Syria, trespassing on a Russian fiefdom and completely overpassing officialdom in Damascus.

While enjoying the renewed international attention they have been getting, Syrian Kurds have been inching towards Moscow in recent weeks, feeling abandoned by the US due to its strong ties with Nato ally Turkey, which is opposed to the main Syrian-Kurdish party Democratic Union Party (PYD).

As the world seemed focused on the Syrian tug-of-war in Geneva, high level statesmanship was being carried by American and Russian diplomats, all aimed at seducing the Kurds of Syria. Last weekend US presidential envoy Brett McGurk arrived in the small town of Kobani (Ain Al Arab) in northern Syria, just south of the border with Turkey, where he met with a wide assortment of Kurdish officials and fighters.

McGurk spent two days in the war-torn city that exactly one year ago had repelled a major offensive by Daesh, using arms and ammunition from the United States. He is the first US official to publicly visit Syria since the official withdrawal of Ambassador Robert Ford in 2012. Aside from chatting with fighters and evaluating battle updates against Daesh, McGurk was seemingly carving out America’s share of the so-called Syrian Kurdistan, and finding out exactly what the Russians were doing in other parts of the three Kurdish autonomous districts of Syria. The Americans seem to have succeeded in making strong alliances with powerful Kurdish militias.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Syria advisors realise that despite years of cooperation between Syrian Kurds and the United States, the relationship is nowhere as warm as it used to be — thanks to Turkey. Previously the Kurds were seen as key partners in the war on terror, eligible for US and intelligence sharing on Daesh activities in the Syrian north. More recently the Americans have been keeping a distance — at least in public — so as not to upset Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who writes off Kurdish heavyweights either as allies, agents or fans of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, the US and the EU consider a “terrorist organisation”. Although they realise that they are being pawned by both powers, Syrian Kurds are investing in this American-Russian competition, trying to manipulate it to serve their own national interests.
 (Sami Moubayed, Correspondent)
[gulfnews.com]
2/1/16

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