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Tuesday, 30 May 2023
Russia’s Persistent Extortion of SDF in North-eastern Syria
Jwan Dibo

The concerns of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have recently escalated following the fifteenth round of negotiations in Astana among the three ‘guarantors’: Russia, Turkey, and Iran. SDF's apprehension stems from the possibility that Russia and Turkey can reach a clandestine deal at the expense of the influence of SDF. Russia’s short history in Syria is replete with such disgraceful covert agreements with Turkey at the account of prolonging the tragedy of the Syrian people.

Since Turkish occupation of the Kurdish city of Afrin in March 2018, Russia has never stopped extorting SDF by intimidating them through Turkey. Detachments of Russian Military Police withdrew from the city of Afrin in January 2018 prior Turkey began an offensive against Kurdish forces. Russia abandoned Afrin in return for Ghouta based on the shameful deal, later known as Afrin for Turkey, in exchange for Ghouta for Russia and Assad regime.

Russia’s aim behind giving Afrin to Turkey was to force Kurdish-led SDF to negotiate with Assad regime without preconditions. Likewise, to weaken US influence in Syria by undermining its local ally, namely SDF.

Nowadays, Russia is exerting the same dirty policy towards SDF in the town of Ain Isa In Raqqa and the town of Tal Tamer in the countryside of Hasakah. Russia threatens SDF that it will pull back its forces from Ain Isa and Tel Tamar if SDF will not acquiesce to Russia’s agendas in Syria. Consequently, SDF will be in asymmetric confrontations with Turkish army.

On the ground, Russia implemented recently partial withdrawal from both mentioned towns before coming back shortly. Later, the move was understood as a kind of redeployment in order to confuse SDF.

Since Kurdish-led SDF became the essential partner of US in Syria in late 2015, Russia has not stopped to incite other parties in Syria against SDF. It started with using Iranian and pro-Assad militias against SDF in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. After the failure to shrink SDF’s influence due to American persistent support, then Russia found that Turkey is the best way and power to minimise SDF role and size.

Therefore, Russia has always blessed Turkey for its expansionist policies in Syria, especially those targeting the Kurdish-led SDF. For Russia, Turkey has practically become an ally throughout the Syrian crisis. Russia initially won when it succeeded to create a rift between America and Turkey. Moscow culminated this victory in signing the S-400 missile deal with Ankara. This deal, which caused a deep fissure between Turkey on the one hand, and US and EU, on the other hand.

When Russia fights SDF, it implicitly challenges US influence in Syria. Therefore, in this case, Turkey is the best method for Russia to harass the American influence in Syria by curbing the leverage of SDF, which is Washington's only partner in Syria.

The options for SDF are very limited. The survival of SDF and the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria is linked to the US military presence in Syria. If US withdraws from Syria, everything will collapse because SDF will be in an unequal clash with the Turkish army. Moreover, Russia and the Syrian regime’s army will not hesitate to attack SDF, which the Syrian regime considers it a separatist project.

Apparently, Russia will continue blackmailing SDF in northeast Syria via Turkey since the balance of power on the ground tend to be in its favour. Moscow was even able to make Turkey join to its coalition by exaggerating the alleged Kurdish threat. The common factor among Moscow, Ankara, Damascus, and Tehran is fighting the US military presence in Syria. In addition, fighting Kurdish aspirations for liberation in the three countries is the old - new goal for the three countries.

But the scene may turn upside down if Biden's administration adopts more firm and clear policies regarding the Syrian issue. This scenario remains possible, knowing that it is somewhat improbable due to the absence of a clear-cut American strategy in Syria.

 By: Jwan Dibo