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Thread: Russia promotes Kurdish self-determination but with caveats

  1. #1
    Senior Member Hariz's Avatar
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    Russia promotes Kurdish self-determination but with caveats

    Only recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin had berated the Bolshevik leadership of Vladimir Lenin for conceding the principle of self-determination to resolve what Marxists call the ‘national question’ in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

    Officials take part in the opening ceremony of a representative office of Syrian Kurdistan in Moscow Feb. 10

    Officials take part in the opening ceremony of a representative office of Syrian Kurdistan in Moscow
    Therefore, eyebrows will be raised over the news that a representative office of Syrian Kurds has been opened in Moscow on Thursday with much media publicity.

    A Russian foreign ministry official reportedly made the cheeky remark to the state news agency TASS that a full-fledged embassy of Syrian Kurds in Moscow is not envisaged at the moment.

    Unsurprisingly, Damascus chose not to raise dust over this development. The Syrian embassy in Moscow put a straight face and insisted it came to know about the development from the media and “some other sources” but did not “know anything about its tasks or the number of employees”.

    It is improbable, though, that Moscow kept Damascus in the dark. The dealings involving the Alawaite-dominated Syrian regime with the Kurdish minority – and between Moscow and the “mountain Kurds” – have always remained ambivalent.

    Moscow’s motives in making this strange move need to be understood. It is difficult to believe that in a new-found spirit of ‘exceptionalism’, Moscow is following American footsteps to promote self-determination in foreign countries (which has been a cardinal Wilsonian principle dating back to World War I.)

    However, Russia probably finds it useful to selectively promote the right of self-determination in the multipolar world. There is a precedent already – Crimea in 2014. (Russia will in turn cite the precedent of Kosovo, of course.) A top Kremlin pundit, Vitaly Naumkin at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow, recently hinted that Syria could be a ripe case for promoting self-determination. Naumkin wrote,

    Kurds are close to achieving their main strategic goal of establishing an extended control line along the Syrian-Turkish border — which, in Moscow’s opinion, is helping to bring closer the positions of the government forces and the Syrian Kurds.

    However, to rule out any relapse of animosity between them, Moscow will need to convince Damascus to accept Kurdish self-determination. Indeed, devising a concept of decentralization for a future Syria that would be acceptable to all is the most important task in any plan for a Syrian resolution.

    Military analysts expect that the Kurds may soon launch an offensive in the 60-mile section of the Jarabulus corridor between Turkey and IS (Islamic State), which is like waiving a red flag in front of Ankara. But will Turkey risk an open intervention in Syria in that case? What response would come from Washington, which supports the Kurds militarily (as does Russia)? That consideration might be what recently prompted Moscow to considerably strengthen its air contingent in Latakia by deploying multipurpose Sukhoi-35S fighter planes and upgrading Syrian MiG29s and MiG29CMTs.

    Turkey finds it unacceptable to have Kurds lined up along its border with Syria and has repeatedly threatened to intervene militarily if a Kurdish-controlled corridor is established. While rebutting Russia’s accusations that it is preparing a ground intervention, Turkey is at the same time stepping up its anti-Russian rhetoric.

    Naumkin presents here a rare opportunity to peep into the complicated Russian calculus. Simply put, Russia finds it a tactical necessity to promote Syrian Kurds on the battlefield for the reasons that:

    It weakens Turkey’s capacity to support the rebel groups in Syria;

    Syrian Kurds’ military victories work to the advantage of the regime in Damascus;
    There is a need to demoralize Turkey and keep its leadership off-balnce – something like the soulful breaking of a little wild horse on the prairie ;

    Moscow needs to balance Washington’s enduring links with Syrian Kurds; and,
    Syrian Kurds themselves could prove to be a blue poker chip of high value when the game begins in Geneva.

    Of course, the ceremonial opening of the office of Syrian Kurds in Moscow on Thursday comes within forty-eight hours of the brash threat held out by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that Ankara will do an ‘Afghanistan’ to Russia in the Middle East. A furious reaction by Moscow became almost mandatory, since such harsh invocations of the Afghan jihad of the eighties upset the Russian public.

    The Turks will get the message alright that fueling insugency is a game Russia can also play, if left with no other option.

    However, the salience of what Naumkin, a noted ‘Orientalist’, wrote lies somewhere else. He underscored that “devising a concept of decentralization for a future Syria that would be acceptable to all is the most important task in any plan for a Syrian resolution”.

    Now, can it be that Moscow and Washington have a silent convergence here on how to hold together Syria? Conceivably, the two great powers would generally agree that the territorial boundaries drawn up a century ago in the Middle East settlement by two other great powers in modern history in a bygone era following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire cannot be easily redrawn.

    But on the other hand, Syria cannot continue to remain a highly centralized unitary state, either. (This is also the root problem in Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Yemen.)

    The answer could well lie in a “concept of decentralization” that allows Alawaites, Kurds, Christians, Sunnis and sundry others in Syria to cohabitate under a roof that is high enough to accommodate them.

    The time has come to address the national question involving Kurds. A nationality that exceeds 30 million in population can legitimately stake claim to nationhood. But, on the other hand, the principle of self-determination if applied universally can have stunning results. Even Russia, China or India as they appear on the world map may have to give way to successor states.

    What is needed, therefore, is a bit of doctoring of the principle of self-determination (which was also, ironically, what Lenin attempted and Stalin forcefully practised.)

    Redrawing national boundaries brings miseries and leaves a trail of bitterness all around that linger on for generations. Pakistan is yet to forget (or forgive) India’s controversial role in the creation of Bangaldesh almost half a century ago.

    Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for Asia Times since 2001.
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  2. #2
    Senior Member Hariz's Avatar
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    Re: Russia promotes Kurdish self-determination but with caveats

    Ties strained as Turkish president steps up tirade against US for backing Syrian Kurds

    ISTANBUL–Just as events in Syria seem to be approaching a new climax and NATO has been drawn into the so far unsuccessful attempts to tackle the refugee crisis, Ankara has trained its sights on the country supposed to be its closest ally, the United States.

    For three nights running this week, President Erdoğan has hit out fiercely at continuing American ties with the Kurdish Syrian PYD (Democratic Union Party) insisting that the US label it a terrorist organization and cut links with it.

    He is in effect asking for the US to do something which would undo the most effective wrong in the US-led international coalition against Islamic State (IS).

    In the last year and a half, a combination of US and other coalition jets working closely with the PYD’s armed militia on the ground, the YPG, has successively rolled back ever larger sections of territory from IS control.

    YPG soldiers defended the beleaguered city of Kobane, lifted the siege on it and liberated other areas in a strip of northern Syria running along the Turkish Syrian border. They are currently on the west bank of the Euphrates, poised to drive IS out of a 98-km strip of land which happens to be the main conduit between Turkey and the Syrian rebels.

    In addition to this, Turkey’s ability to intervene on the ground in Syria is also blocked by Russian and Syrian government airpower following the downing of a Russian jet on Turkey’s border on 24 November.

    To all intents and purposes, it looks as if Turkey’s original aims in Syria of helping rebels overthrow the government of President Bashir Assad and replacing it by a Sunni regime dominated by the Muslim Brothers have finally failed, thwarted by the intervention of the Kurds and the Russians. Rebels’ hopes of taking Aleppo, the capital of northern Syria and the country’s largest city, are also fading.

    Against this background, Erdoğan’s harshly-worded virtual ultimatum to the US looks clumsy and alarming, even apparently to some of his erstwhile colleagues inside the AKP, now retired, who have begun holding highly publicized meetings, while Erdoğan met former president Abdullah Gül for three hours in the new presidential palace on Tuesday.

    No announcement was made afterwards about what the two men discussed but speculation about some sort of rebellion inside the AKP, even if only by its old guard, is growing.

    The US seems to have decided that while it will not budge over the PYD, Turkey is too useful an ally to annoy unnecessarily.

    On Wednesday evening, Mark Toner, State Department spokesperson, attempted to smooth tempers in Ankara declaring “Turkey’s a NATO ally, a strong partner within the anti-IS coalition and we appreciate their support.

    “We coordinate closely with them across a variety of fronts and all lines of effort … we’re going to continue those discussions [on PYD] moving forward but I think no one should question our commitment to our alliance with Turkey.”

    It is unlikely that Erdoğan can ever sit easily with a United States which is working closely with the PYD, an offshoot of the Turkish PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). Since last July, he has been waging all-out war against it, flattening parts of several large cities in southeastern Turkey in a ruthless crackdown which has cost hundreds of lives – many of them those of Turkish policemen and soldiers.

    Here, as in Syria, Turkey’s abandoning of compromise does not seem to be repaid with success.

    Despite the horrific cost to civilians in southeastern Turkey, the all-out force has not defeated the PKK or brought an end to violence. The daily flow of casualties continues.

    Though the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democracy Party (HDP), the wing of the Kurdish movement which opposed violent tactics, seems to have been smashed, the hardline militants appear to be determined to go on striking at government targets.

    Frustration at this situation perhaps explains Ankara’s current belligerent tone in its dialogue with the US. It knows that it has strategic assets, such as its air bases which the US will not want to lose. It is also displeased at remarks by the US administration implicitly criticizing imprisonment of journalists and threats against opposition academics.

    The underlying problem, as everyone is now well aware, diverges sharply from those of the US.

    Erdoğan wants to fight Assad and the Kurds leaving IS somewhere in the background. The US sees the combat almost exclusively as a war against IS. It looks like a partnership in which the two sides are both doomed to become steadily more unhappy.
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  3. #3
    Member Jabba's Avatar
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    Re: Russia promotes Kurdish self-determination but with caveats

    Well if American and Russia promote Kurds then it is likely we will see a redrawing of borders

  4. #4
    Member greencold's Avatar
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    Re: Russia promotes Kurdish self-determination but with caveats

    If Ankara is angry with the US for backing Syrian Kurds then Ankara must be close to having a Hernia with Moscow giving full backing of the Kurdish Self Determination movement
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    Senior Member Greenstar's Avatar
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    Re: Russia promotes Kurdish self-determination but with caveats

    Quote Originally Posted by greencold View Post
    If Ankara is angry with the US for backing Syrian Kurds then Ankara must be close to having a Hernia with Moscow giving full backing of the Kurdish Self Determination movement
    Turkey is boiling over this matter.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Hariz's Avatar
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    Re: Russia promotes Kurdish self-determination but with caveats

    Turkey's faulty foreign policy choices in Syria since the beginning of the conflict, including supporting Sunnis in the sectarian strife, working for the removal of the Syrian regime from power, undermining the Syrian Kurds and downing a Russian jet, have dragged the country to such a point that today, it is at odds with not only Russia but its close ally the US as well.

    After trying to impose its policies on other actors in the region for some time, it seems that Ankara will have no word in the future of Syria ahead of the Geneva peace talks, which have been postponed to Feb. 25.

    After downing a Russian jet at the Syrian border over an airspace violation on Nov. 24 of last year, a first for NATO in 50 years, Turkish-Russian relations have been significantly derailed. Russia has demanded an apology and compensation for the damages, but Turkey has refused, saying that it will not apologize for defending its airspace.

    Following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's remarks calling on the US to choose between its ally Turkey and “the terrorists in Kobani,” a reference to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey strongly opposes due to its links to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Ankara is now not on good terms with the US.

    Sunday's Zaman has learned that US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass has asked Turkish officials not to publicly bring up the differences between the US and Turkey concerning the PYD. Bass said the US position on the PYD is clear and will not change. The US sees the PYD as one of the leading forces on the ground in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and despite the fact that the PKK is classified as a terrorist organization under US law, the PYD is not considered terrorist. In spite of their differences on Syria, the US and Turkey had previously mostly managed to maintain a balance in their relationship.

    Ignoring the remarks of Ambassador Bass, Erdoğan has challenged the US position on the PYD, and following Erdoğan's remarks US officials in Washington have expressed their position in a stronger tone, underscoring that their support for the PYD will continue. US Department State Spokesperson John Kirby said last week that even close friends do not have to agree on everything, while stressing that Turkey and the US are still close allies.

    US-led coalition forces are actively using Turkey's İncirlik Air Base in Adana province to strike ISIL positions in both Syria and Iraq. While Turkey has been pushing for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, the US has repeatedly said that the priority should be eliminating ISIL. US officials have also been asking Turkey to do everything it can to seal the border and prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Syria.

    Testifying at a hearing at the US Congress on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama's envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL, Brett McGurk, signaled that the US is in favor of keeping the Syrian regime in power for some time. According to a Western diplomat who spoke to Sunday's Zaman, the US and Russia have agreed on keeping Assad in power. The diplomat said despite knowing that Assad is not the best choice, the US understands now that he is not the worst choice.

    Washington has been contemplating an arrangement with Moscow whereby Assad would remain in power for a “transitional” period so that everyone can focus on ISIL, according to an article written by Henri Barkey on Jan. 27 for US-based think tank the Wilson Center. “Russia is unlikely to deliver in the long run. Its air force is helping Assad consolidate power along the heart of Syria, the Damascus-Aleppo axis. This will be completed when Aleppo is taken from the opposition. For the Russians and Assad, the rest of Syria does not really matter,” Barkey wrote.

    It is not clear what Turkey aims to achieve in Syria by increasing tension with regional actors except damaging its own interests. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu tried to patch things up with the US in an address to Parliament during budget talks on Wednesday, saying, “One of the most important elements of our foreign policy is our alliance and partnership with the US.”

    He said Turkey has always been in close cooperation and consultation with the US in the face of almost all threats and tests in the international arena. “We may have differences in some matters, but this doesn't change the fact that we are allies and we will continue to overcome such things through consultations,” Çavuşoğlu said.

    In his address, Çavuşoğlu talked about Russia as well and said Turkey did not specifically target a Russian jet on Nov. 24 but rather a foreign fighter jet violating its airspace. Turkey shot down the jet due to its rules of engagement and after the incident, Ankara has continued to follow a “cautious” policy. “Unfortunately, Russia has been following a policy that aims to harm Turkish people,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding that Russia has tried to provoke Turkey after the incident, without elaborating how or when. He said Turkey is keeping the door of dialogue open and would like to see Russia regain common sense in the near future.
    Turkey at odds with Russia and now the US on Syria

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