Why is Russia supporting Syrian Kurds?

Alwaght– Last week, the Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement announcing that the country’s jets were helping the Syrian Kurds battle remnants of ISIS terrorists east of the Euphrates River.

According to the statement, the Russian fighters carried out 672 sorties and bombed over 1,450 targets to support the “offensive by the militias of eastern Euphrates tribes and Kurdish militias.”

The announcement came only a day after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), confirmed cooperation of its units with a Russian military delegation. The YPG noted that their operations against ISIS were nearing its end and that they thanked both the US-led international military coalition as well as Russian forces for the support they provided to the Kurds.

The Kurdish statement signaled that the Russians in the present conditions have scales up their backing to and joint work with the Syrian Kurds more than any other time. Although in the past there was a limited level of bilateral coordination between the Kurds and the Russian military, it appears that now they have upgraded their collaboration in a wider range, something revealing the new Moscow approach to the Syrian Kurds.

The Russian-YPG partnership on the Syrian ground comes while the Kurdish militias have been the key frontline allies of the US at least over the past year, receiving all kinds of support including logistics and arms from Washington as the battle has unfolded. Russia and the US are the key two international rivals in the Syrian crisis.

But how significant is the current Russian expansion of cooperation with the Kurds which is open to upgrading to strategic levels in the future? And what goals do the Russians seek behind this relationship?

To answer these questions, a multi-layered equation in which each party of the game, namely the Syrian Kurds, Russia, the US, and Turkey, must be put into consideration. In fact, the Kurds of Syria can be an instrument or factor in the hands of Moscow to press with its policies against Washington and Ankara. With these in mind, here are the reasons of the Russian closeness to and cooperation with the Kurds:

Russia seizes the moment amid Kurdish mistrust in the US

Over the past month, an issue that became subject to wide range of analyses was the status of the Kurds of Syria in the post-ISIS period. The Kurdish leaders are worried that in the new period, the Americans would review strategy and thus withhold their support from the ethnic group. To justify their concerns, they point to the fate of the Iraqi Kurds in the years of 1975 and 1991, when Americans encouraged the bloody uprisings of the Kurds against the central government, but withdrew backing when things reached decisive stages, causing the Kurds to sustain heavy losses. The remarks of the former president of the Kurdish region of Iraq Masoud Barzani about the possible revision of the Erbil relations with Washington after the failure of the independence referendum and simultaneously showing will to move close to Moscow even stirred more pessimism of the Syrian Kurds to the American plans for the future of Syria.

Russians are well aware of the lack of the trust among the Kurds in the US, and so since nearly a month ago began to send signals telling them that Moscow can make a reliable ally. The Russian invitation of the Kurds to attend the expected Syria meeting in Sochi to take part in the national dialogue is part of the new Russian strategy. The Russian air cover very clearly exhibited the Syrian Kurds’ will to move close to Moscow in a bid to create a climate of stronger rivalry and so keep the American support in place. Russia and the US are now heavily engaged in a contest for picking more allies and so building stronger alliances to deepen their influence in the West Asia region. Once it can win the full confidence of the Syrian and even Iraqi Kurds, Kremlin can secure a toehold in the region.

Forcing US out of Syria

Many analysts stick to the idea that the new regional order of the West Asia forms right through the Syrian developments. This means that one of the other Russian goals behind relations with the Kurds is to inflict a strategic defeat on the Americans on the ground of the Syrian crisis. The Syrian Kurds are the only instrument and a trump card in the Syrian developments. If the US is stripped of its local Syrian allies, then Washington will be left with the least power on the ground of competition with the other powers and actors. Meanwhile, closeness to Russia and Russian military support and even guaranteeing the establishment of an autonomous region in northern Syria within a federal system can allure the PYD leaders into moving towards laying the foundation for a strategic alliance with the Russians. The Kurds have figured out that the Syrian future is not determined in Geneva or by the Western governments, rather meetings and agreements brokered by Russian, Iran, and Turkey will determine Syria’s fate.

Pressing Turkey

Pressure on Turkey is another drive pushing the Russians to establish a friendship with the Kurds through backing them militarily. Despite the fact that Russia and Turkey over past year partnered for broad work on the Syrian stage, some sticking points between them remain unresolved, especially the Turkish army’s operations in Syria that cross the lines of accords of Ankara with Moscow and Tehran. This motivates a Russian will to put strains on the Turks.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is heavily busy preparing an offensive on the Afrin canton in northwestern Syria, an arrangement meant to permanently kill the Kurdish dreams for accessing the high seas through the Mediterranean coasts. In the meantime, talking about the Russian military partnership with the Kurds sends a clear message to Turkey, telling Erdogan that Moscow never wants to see the Kurdish-controlled areas attacked, beside opposition to Ankara intervention in other northern Syrian regions.