Russia holds the upper hand, should Russia decide to use it.
March 30, 2017
Speaking in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, Sergei Lavrov’s deputy at the Russian Foreign Ministry, gave a brief statement to the press, clarifying Russia’s much misunderstood position regarding a Syrian peace settlement.
Gatilov is a gentle, soft spoken man. At times he is too gentle, as many in Russia tend to be when faced with the onslaught of both western imperial aggression as well as the terrorist aggression of foreign fighters, currently plaguing the territory of their Syrian ally.
Nevertheless, he reiterated an important position, that the future of post-war Syria is up to the Syrian people and the Syrian people alone. Gatilov also confirmed Russia’s commitment to preserving Syria’s territorial integrity
Practically, this means that if Syria rejects Kurdish demands to seize Syrian territory or carve it out as an autonomous region, Russia would not contradict Syria in such an event.
This is an inconvenient fact for many.
Here are the three main countries who would not be comfortable with Syria maintaining both her sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Syrian sovereignty is an inconvenient fact for the United States which under Donald Trump has largely given up on funding the jihadists terrorists that Barack Obama had supported in his desire for regime change. Having given up on blood soaked ‘moderate’ throat cutters, America is now fully backing the Kurds who have territorial and regional geo-political ambitions. They too threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria in their desire to either federate or secede from the Syrian Arab Republic. The majority of the Syrian population opposes Kurdish ambitions and traditionally so too has the Syrian government.
Under President Erdogan, Turkey has been desirous for regime change in Damascus since the beginning of the conflict. Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism seeks the re-conquest of territories in the Arab world, including much of northern Syria and northern Iraq. This puts him in a two way battle between Syria and what is left of a sovereign Iraq on the one hand and Kurds who themselves seek to declare the Turkish borderlands as their own Kurdish state.
One of the strange ironies of the conflict is that in trying to expand Turkey and recapture erstwhile Ottoman territories, there is a chance that Kurds within Turkey (the largest Kurdish population in the world), may now be more emboldened than ever to succeed from Turkey.
Even if this does not happen, the formation of a Kurdish state on Turkey’s borders would be unacceptable for any Turkish leader, not just the unhinged Erdogan.
Under both Hafez al-Assad as well as Bashar al-Assad, Syria has been a constant supporter of the restoration of Palestine on land occupied by Israel. Because of this, Israel has long sought the removal of both father and son in Syria.
Because the ‘Assad must go’ brigade have largely admitted (however quietly) that regime change is no longer a possibility, Israel is now equally desirous of a Kurdish state on Syrian territory. Israel has long supported Kurdish separatism against secular Arab states, particularly Iraq and Syria. A Kurdish state in place of parts of Syrian and/or Iraqi territory would, be a rare regional ally for Israel which remains a regional pariah, in spite of recent reconciliation efforts with Ankara.
If Israel comes out and publicly backs Kurdish separatism, they will lose any good will from Turkey, but they will gain a possible military outpost in the legitimate territory of an Arab state. Many in Tel Aviv salivate at such an opportunity.
Each of these states stand to gain from Syria’s loss, whether her loss manifests itself in the form of Syrian weakness through federation or the destruction of Syrian territorial integrity in the form of a Kurdish state.
Although counter-intuitive, Turkey stands to gain as well. Erdogan cares less for peace than for power and a Kurdish state next to Turkey would give Erdogan the excuse he needs to consolidate power even further and put Turkey on a war footing. Erdogan never asked for permission before illegally invading Syria, so it can be safely assumed that no such permission would be asked in respect of a Kurdish state.
The wildcard in this is Russia. Unlike Syria and Iran who roundly oppose Kurdish separatism. Russia has generally enjoyed good relations with the Kurds. Sharing a traditional regional enemy in the form of Turkey is the basis of this relationship.
It would however be highly foolish if Russia were to back aspirant Kurdish nationalism at the expense of an actual state, one which has been a Soviet and Russian ally for many decades, namely Syria. It would be equally foolish for Russia to back the creation of a state or autonomous province in a Balkanised Syria that would alienate Iran. The fact that Iran and Russia seem to be deepening their relationship is a positive development in respect of Russia not putting its weight behind separatist Kurds.
Finally, one has to consider Russia’s relationship with Turkey. Turkey is in many respects, an enemy of Russian interests but Turkey is not an enemy of Russia itself per se.
Both countries have an important economic relationship and in spite of Erdogan’s illegal occupation of Syria which is roundly against Russian interests, if Russia were to stand against America in opposing a Krudish state, it would not only be an aid to Russia’s real ally in Syria but would help ease tensions with Turkey who for economic reasons and reasons of regional security, Russia needs more than it needs the United States. This will be even more important when the tyrant Erdogan finally goes, which may happen sooner rather than later. His nine lives may fast be running out.
Because Russia has good relations with both the Syrian government and with Kurds in Syria, Moscow has an upper hand in future negotiations that it ought not to misname. If Russia plays its hand right, it can satisfy the just desires of the majority of Syrians, show loyalty to an important Arab ally, reaffirm good future relations with Iran, get Turkey to climb down from its increasingly ludicrous position and humiliate the legacy of Obama’s policies on the world’s stage, something which may even help guide Trump back to his position of peace and reconciliation with Russia. At the same time, Russia can help reconcile Kurds to a healthy but not separatist position within the Syrian Arab Republic.
Russia has everything to gain from standing by Syria. Other less ethical states, by contrast, stand to gain from Syria’s destruction.