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Russia Squelches Trump’s New Plan to Invade Syria

Eric Zuesse

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On Friday, August 31st, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia has handed to the OPCW (Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), and to the U.N., “proof” that the U.S. Government has been working with Al Qaeda to set up a chemical incident that the U.S. and its allies can then use as a supposed justification for invading Syria as a ‘humanitarian’ response to a chemical attack allegedly by Syria’s Government, but actually done by U.S.-backed forces, to re-ignite the 7-year-old ‘civil war’ between Syria’s Government and U.S.-backed ‘rebels’, who consist almost exclusively of fundamentalist-Sunni jihadists that are trained and led by Al Qaeda in Syria, with U.S. help and Saudi financing.

On August 29th Global Research headlined “Video: US Creates Strike Force to Attack Syria”, and posted an August 28th report from South Front saying:

Reports are appearing that the Syrian Air Defense Forces (SADF) have already started preparing to repel an expected US-led missile strike by deploying additional specialists and air defense systems near the crucial objects of the infrastructure, which they expect may be targeted.

On August 22, US National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed that

“if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons, we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time.”

This was only one of a series of threats to the Syrian government issued by the US, the UK and France. While all these threats are clearly exploiting the chemical weapons narrative, their main goal is to prevent the defeat of the terrorists in Idlib by delaying the Syrian Army operation.

On August 25, a source close to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told the Kurdish news outlet Bas News that the US-led coalition began deploying radar stations at its bases in the governorates of al-Hasakah and Aleppo as part of a new plan to increase its control of Syrian airspace. The report  pointed out the airbases in Kobani and Rmelan as places where the radars were installed.

Also on August 28th, the U.S.-backed Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was informed by reliable sources that negotiations are underway between the Turkish intelligence services and between Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham [Syria’s Al Qaeda branch, formerly called “Al Nusra”], The Islamic Turkestani Party, and other jihadi groups, with the aim of reaching agreement and consensus for these factions to resolve themselves, where these endeavors coincide with accelerated preparations by the regime forces and their loyal fighters for the start of the grand battle of Idlib [the place to which the surrendered jihadists in Syria have been sent], through which the regime forces seek to control the province and other areas in its surroundings of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia provinces, and the continuation of negotiation comes after the conflicted information about reaching consensus on this issue, where Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham and the rest of the groups continue to experience confusion among their leaders and members, as a section of which has agreed to the demands of the Turkish authorities to resolve themselves, while the larger section rejects this process and refuses to approve any of the Turkish terms within the Negotiations. …

[In the] Idlib battle, … Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham controls the largest part of Idlib province, and shares it with other 3 parties: the rebel and Islamic factions, the Islami Turkestani Party, and the regime forces and militiamen loyal to them.

The military operation to be conducted in Idlib province, … the regime forces and their allies have been significantly preparing over the past weeks, by bringing in thousands of members of their forces and loyal gunmen as well as hundreds of faction fighters who have recently joined the “reconciliation”, and hundreds of vehicles, armored vehicles, ammunition, and machinery. …

Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham … is one of the renewed names of al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda Organization in the Levant). …

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the regime forces bringing more vehicles, members, materiel and ammunition, to these lines, and in conjunction with these mobilizations by the regime forces, the SOHR monitored on the 21st of August 2018 the leader of Al-Nusra Front (Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham) Abu Mohammad al-Julani, taking a military tour in the northern mountains of Lattakia, where al-Julani reviewed with a number of the commanders of the first and second rank in Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham, the members of Tahrir Al-Sham and the front lines.

Like other reports by U.S.-allied organizations, Syria’s Government is called “the regime” instead of “the Government,” and the jihadists (except for ISIS) are accepted as being the U.S. alliance’s boots-on-the-ground in Syria to ‘liberate’ the Syrian people from Syria’s Government.

So, the U.S. Government can hardly call this allegation of U.S. working in conjunction with Al Qaeda, ‘Russian propaganda’. However, on that very same day, August 28th, RT bannered “US army accuses RT of ‘ridiculous misinformation’ over Syria, but not UN or NBC”, and reported: “A US Army colonel has accused RT of ‘ridiculous misinformation’ for reporting a Russian government suggestion that Islamic State is operating inside a US-controlled zone in Syria, despite the UN and NBC reporting the same.”

On August 25th, RT had headlined “Terrorists readying chemical attack to frame Damascus & provide pretext for US strikes – Russian MoD”, and reported:

The US and its allies are preparing new airstrikes on Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that militants are poised to stage a chemical weapons attack in order to frame Damascus and provide a pretext for the strikes.

The attack would be used as a pretext for US, UK and French airstrikes on Syrian targets, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov said. USS ‘The Sullivans,’ an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer, was already deployed to the Persian Gulf a couple of days ago, he added.

The destroyer has 56 cruise missiles on board, according to data from the Russian Defence Ministry. A US Rockwell B-1 Lancer, a supersonic bomber equipped with 24 cruise missiles, has also been deployed at the Qatari Al Udeid Airbase. 

On August 24th, RT had headlined “ISIS & Al-Nusra terrorists are hiding in Syrian refugee camp within US-controlled zone – Moscow”, and reported that “Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and the Al-Qaeda proxy group Jabhat al-Nusra found quiet shelter in one of the biggest camps, Rukban, near the Syria-Jordan border. … The same refugee camp was listed in a recent UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team report as one of the sources of IS reemergence. The same document reported that ISIS had been defeated in most of the Syrian Arab Republic during 2017, but ‘rallied in early 2018’ due to ‘loss of momentum’ by forces fighting in the east of Syria, where the US base is located.”

The Wikipedia article on “Rukban” opens by saying that its population is 75,000, and that: “Rukban … is an arid remote area near the extreme northeast of Jordan, close to the joint borders with Syria and Iraq. The area contains a refugee camp lying along the demilitarized berm between Jordan and Syria, a no man’s land.” That would be an ideal place for the U.S. and its allies to be assembling the materials for what will be alleged to be a chemical weapons attack ‘by the Assad regime’. Rukban is located in Jordan, a U.S. ally, and adjoining Syria, of which the U.S. has been an enemy ever since first failing in 1949 to turn Syria into a land controlled by the Saud family, as Obama and now Trump are again trying to do.

I had reported, on August 25th, the history of this sort of operation by the U.S. Government, going back to 1949, and mentioning recent faked ‘chemical attacks’ set up by the U.S. Government working in conjuction with Al Qaeda in Syria. So: with that lengthy history as background, there exists very sound reason for Syria and its allies to be expecting now yet another invasion of Syiria by U.S.-and-allied missiles, to be ‘justified’ on the basis of lies.

The latest of America’s missile-invasions of Syria occurred back on 14 April 2018, allegedly in response to a Syrian Government ‘chemical weapons attack’ in the city of Douma, which had allegedly occurred on April 7th. Russia tried to get the U.N. Security Council to announce that no invasion of Syria should occur until after the OPCW would enter Douma and collect samples and testimony to determine whether any such attack had actually occurred; and, if so, who had done it. The U.S. blocked that proposal, and invaded on the 14th. Despite that, the OPCW rushed in, to examine Douma, even after the invasion. On April 18th, America’s jihadist allies in Douma shot at OPCW inspectors, who courageously continued their work, despite the U.S. Government’s repeated efforts to stop it. The OPCW’s findings have been kept secret, so that the public still doesn’t know what the evidence about that April 7th matter actually showed. Also on April 18th, Turkey’s newspaper Yeni Safak headlined “US to build Arab force in NE Syria as part of new ploy: The US is seeking to amass an Arab force in northeastern Syria comprised of funding and troops from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.” That effort by Trump failed; so, the only path forward for him on Syria now is a U.S. invasion, but this one will have to be much larger than the last one, which was done on April 14th, and in which UK and France also supplied a few of the 100+ missiles. Perhaps, if the U.S. does that, Russia will this time target and maybe destroy some U.S. planes and warships. Then, the question would be whether to go to all-out nuclear war, over the Syrian matter and, of course, over America’s other excuses for its aggressions against Russia and its allies, such as America’s 2014 conquest of Ukraine and turning that country over to nazis.

Perhaps these are the reasons why Russia is announcing clearly, ahead of time, that it won’t simply acquiesce if the U.S. tries this faked accusation against Syria, yet again. Perhaps things won’t be so easy, if there is a “next time” on this particular matter.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Turkey plays Khashoggi crisis to its geopolitical advantage

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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With Turkish investigators asserting that they have found further evidence that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed when he visited the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago, Turkey appears to be leveraging the case to enhance its position as a leader of the Islamic World and reposition itself as a key US ally.

To enhance its geopolitical position vis a vis Saudi Arabia as well as Russia and Iran and potentially garner economic advantage at a time that it is struggling to reverse a financial downturn, Turkey has so far leaked assertions of evidence it says it has of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing rather than announced them officially.

In doing so, Turkey has forced Saudi Arabia to allow Turkish investigators accompanied by Saudi officials to enter the consulate and positioned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the kingdom’s saviour by engineering a situation that will allow the kingdom to craft a face-saving way out of the crisis.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering announcing that Mr. Khashoggi, a widely-acclaimed journalist critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who went into self-exile because he feared arrest, was killed in either a rogue operation or an attempt gone awry to forcibly repatriate it him back to the kingdom.

US President Donald J. Trump offered the Turks and Saudis a helping hand by referring this week to the possibility of Mr. Khashoggi having been killed by rogues and dispatching Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh and Ankara.

Mr. Khashoggi, seeking to obtain proof of his divorce in the kingdom so that he could marry his Turkish fiancé, visited the consulate two weeks ago for the second time after having allegedly received assurances that he would be safe.

Turkey emerges as the crisis moves towards a situation in which an official version is agreed that seeks to shield Prince Mohammed from being held responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and likely murder with its international status significantly enhanced.

Turkish leverage is further boosted by the fact that Saudi Arabia — its image in government, political and business circles significantly damaged by the crisis — and the Trump administration that wants to ensure that the kingdom’s ruling family emerges from the crisis as unscathed as possible, are in Ankara’s debt.

As a result, the denouement of the Khashoggi crisis is likely to alter the dynamics in the long-standing competition between Turkey and Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Islamic world.

It also strengthens Turkey’s position in its transactional alliance with Russia and Iran as they manoeuvre to end the war in Syria in a manner that cements Bashar al-Assad’s presidency while addressing Turkish concerns.

Turkey’s position in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia is likely to also benefit from the fact that whatever face-saving solution the kingdom adopts is likely to be flawed when tested by available facts and certain to be challenged by a host of critics, even if many will see Turkey as having facilitated a political solution rather than ensuring that the truth is established.

Already, Mr. Khashoggi’s family who was initially quoted by Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled media as backing Saudi denials of responsibility, insinuations that his fate was the product of a conspiracy by Qatar and/or Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, and casting doubt on the integrity of the journalist’s Turkish fiancée, has called for “the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death.”

Turkey and Saudi Arabia differ on multiple issues that divide the Muslim world. Turkey has vowed to help Iran circumvent Saudi-supported US sanctions imposed after Mr. Trump withdrew in May from the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear agreement.

Turkey further backs Qatar in its dispute with a Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led alliance that has diplomatically and economically boycotted the Gulf state for the last 16 months. The credibility of the alliance’s allegation that Qatar supports terrorism and extremism has been dented by the growing conviction that Saudi Arabia, whether in a planned, rogue or repatriation effort gone wrong, was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.

Mr. Khashoggi’s death, moreover, highlighted differing approaches towards the Brotherhood, one of the Middle East’s most persecuted, yet influential Islamist groupings. Saudi Arabia, alongside the UAE and Egypt, have designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Many brothers have sought refuge in Turkey with Mr. Erdogan empathetic and supportive of the group. A former brother, Mr. Khashoggi criticized Saudi repression of the group.

The Saudi-Turkish rivalry for leadership of the Muslim world was most evident in the two countries’ responses to Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his as yet unpublished plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Turkey emerged as the leader of Islamic denunciation of Mr. Trump’s move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognition of the city as Israel’s capital after Prince Mohammed tried to dampen opposition. Ultimately, King Salman was forced to step in a bid to clarify the kingdom’s position and counter Turkish moves.

No matter how Turkey decides to officially release whatever evidence it has, Saudi Arabia figures out how to respond and halt the haemorrhaging, and Mr. Pompeo holds talks with King Salman and Mr. Erdogan, Turkey is likely to emerge from the crisis strengthened despite its increasingly illiberal and increasingly authoritarian rule at home,

Turkey’s success is all the more remarkable given that it has neither Saudi Arabia’s financial muscle nor the mantle the kingdom adopts as the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

A successful political resolution of the Khashoggi crisis is likely to earn it the gratitude of the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia, and its other detractors like the UAE who support the kingdom even if it may help it to regain popularity in the Arab world lost as a result of its swing towards authoritarianism, alliance with Iran and Qatar, and support for Islamism.

One immediate Turkish victory is likely to be Saudi acquiesce to Mr. Erdogan’s demand that Saudi Arabia drop its support for Kurdish rebels in Syria that Ankara sees as terrorists – a move that would boost Turkey’s position the Turkish-Russian-Iranian jockeying for influence in a post-war Syria. Turkey is also likely to see Saudi Arabia support it economically.

Turkey may, however, be playing for higher stakes.

Turkey “wants to back Saudi Arabia to the wall. (It wants to) disparage the ‘reformist’ image that Saudi Arabia has been constructing in the West” in a bid to get the US to choose Ankara as its primary ally in the Middle East, said international relations scholar Serhat Guvenc.

Turkey’s relations in recent years have soured as a result of Turkish insistence that the US is harbouring a terrorist by refusing to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the preacher it accuses of having engineered the failed 2016 coup; detaining American nationals and US consulate employees on allegedly trumped up charges, cosying up to Russia and purchasing its S-400 surface to air missile system, and aligning itself with Iran. Relations were further strained by US support for Syrian Kurds.

Mr. Trump, however this week heralded a new era in US-Turkish relations after the release of unsubscribeAndrew Brunson, an evangelist preacher who was imprisoned in Turkey for two years on charges of espionage.

Mr. Guvenc argued that Turkey hopes that Saudi Arabia’s battered image will help it persuade Mr. Trump that Turkey rather than the kingdom is its strongest and most reliable ally alongside Israel in the Middle East.

Said journalist Ferhat Unlu: “”Turkey knows how to manage diplomatic crises. Its strategy is to manage tensions to its advantage,”

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MbS: Riding roughshod or playing a risky game of bluff poker?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A stalemate in efforts to determine what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is threatening to escalate into a crisis that could usher in a new era in relations between the United States and some of its closest Arab allies as well as in the region’s energy politics.

In response to US President Donald J. Trump’s threat of “severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia is proven to have been responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance while visiting the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia is threatening to potentially upset the region’s energy and security architecture.

A tweet by Saudi Arabia’s Washington embassy thanking the United States for not jumping to conclusions did little to offset the words of an unnamed Saudi official quoted by the state-run news agency stressing  the kingdom’s “total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether through economic sanctions, political pressure or repeating false accusations.”

The official was referring to the kingdom’s insistence that it was not responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and assertion that it is confronting a conspiracy by Qatar and/or Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The kingdom also affirms that if it is (targeted by) any action, it will respond with greater action,” the official said noting that Saudi Arabia “plays an effective and vital role in the world economy.”

Turki Aldhakhil, a close associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and general manager of the kingdom’s state-controlled Al Arabiya news network, claimed in an online article that Saudi leaders were discussing 30 ways of responding to possible US sanctions.

They allegedly included allowing oil prices to rise up to US$ 200 per barrel, which according to Mr. Aldhakhil, would lead to “the death” of the US economy, pricing Saudi oil in Chinese yuan instead of dollars, an end to intelligence sharing, and a military alliance with Russia that would involve a Russian military base in the kingdom.

It remains unclear whether Mr. Aldhakhil was reflecting serious discussions among secretive Saudi leaders or whether his article was intended either as a scare tactic or a trial balloon. Mr. Aldakhil’s claim that a Saudi response to Western sanctions could entail a reconciliation with the kingdom’s arch enemy, Iran, would make his assertion seem more like geopolitical and economic bluff.

Meanwhile, in what appeared to be a coordinated response aimed at demonstrating that Saudi Arabia was not isolated, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt rushed to express solidarity with the kingdom. Like Turkey, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE have a track record of suppressing independent journalism and freedom of the press.

Ironically, Turkey may be the kingdom’s best friend in the Khashoggi crisis if its claims to have incontrovertible proof of what happened in the consulate prove to be true. Turkey has so far refrained from making that evidence public, giving Saudi Arabia the opportunity to come up with a credible explanation.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip “Erdogan wants to give Saudis an exit out of #Khashoggi case, hoping the Saudi king/crown prince will blame ‘rogue elements’ for the alleged murder, then throwing someone important under the bus. This would let Erdogan walk away looking good & prevent rupture in Turkey-Saudi ties,” tweeted Turkey scholar Soner Cagaptay.

The Saudi news agency report and Mr. Aldakhil’s article suggest that Prince Mohammed believes that Saudi Arabia either retains the clout to impose its will on much of the international community or believes that it rather than its Western critics would emerge on top from any bruising confrontation.

Prince Mohammed no doubt is reinforced in his belief by Mr. Trump’s reluctance to include an arms embargo in his concept of severe punishment. He may also feel that Western support for the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen and reluctance to credibly take the kingdom to task for its conduct of the war was an indication that he was free to do as he pleased.

Prince Mohammed may have been further strengthened in his belief by the initial course of events 28 years ago, the last time that the fate of a journalist was at the centre of a crisis between a Western power and an Arab country.

At the time, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, similar to Mr. Trump’s inclination, refused to impose economic sanctions after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered the arrest, torture and execution of Farhad Barzoft, a young London-based Iranian journalist who reported for The Observer.

Since declassified British government documents disclosed that Mrs. Thatcher’s government did not want to jeopardize commercial relations despite its view of the Iraqi government as a “ruthless and disagreeable regime.”

The comparison between the Khashoggi crisis and the case of Mr. Barzoft goes beyond Western governments’ reluctance to jeopardize commercial relationships.

Mr Barzoft was executed months before Mr. Hussein’s military invaded Kuwait prompting US-led military action that forced his troops to withdraw from the Gulf state, crippling economic sanctions, and ultimately the 2003 Gulf War that, no matter how ill-advised, led to the Iraqi leader’s downfall and ultimate execution.

Prince Mohammed’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen, of which Mr. Khashoggi was critical in one of his last Washington Post columns, has tarnished the kingdom’s international prestige and sparked calls in the US Congress and European parliaments for an embargo on arms sales that have gained momentum with the disappearance of the Saudi journalist.

To be sure Saudi Arabia enjoys greater leverage than Iraq did in 1990. By the same token, 2018 is not 1973, the first and only time the kingdom ever wielded oil as a weapon against the United States. At the time, the US was dependent on Middle Eastern oil, today it is one of, if not the world’s largest producer.

More fundamentally, Prince Mohammed appears to show some of the traits Mr. Hussein put on display, including a seeming lack of understanding of the limits of power and best ways to wield it, a tendency towards impetuousness, a willingness to take risks and gamble without having a credible exit strategy, a refusal to tolerate any form of criticism, and a streak of ruthlessness.

“We’re discovering what this ‘new king’ is all about, and it’s getting worrisome. The dark side is getting darker,” said David Ottaway, a journalist and scholar who has covered Saudi Arabia for decades.

Mr. Hussein was public and transparent about Mr. Barzoft’s fate even if his assertion that the journalist was a spy lacked credibility and the journalist’s confession and trial were a mockery of justice.

Prince Mohammed flatly denies any involvement in the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi and appears to believe that he can bully himself out of the crisis in the absence of any evidence that the journalist left the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate of his own volition.

Mr. Hussein miscalculated with his invasion of Kuwait shortly after getting away with the killing of Mr. Barzoft.

Prince Mohammed too may well have miscalculated if the kingdom is proven to be responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Mr. Hussein’s reputation and international goodwill was irreparably damaged by his execution of Mr. Barzoft and invasion of Kuwait.

Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance has dealt a body blow to Saudi Arabia’s prestige irrespective of whether the journalist emerges from the current crisis alive or dead.

King Salman and the kingdom appear for now to be rallying the wagons around the crown prince.

At the same time, the king has stepped into the fray publicly for the first time by phoning Turkish president Erdogan to reaffirm Saudi cooperation with an investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s fate.

It remains unclear whether that phone call will pave the way for Turkish investigators to enter the Istanbul consulate as well as the Saudi consul general’s home and whether they will be allowed to carry out forensics.

The longer the investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s fate stalls, the more Saudi Arabia will come under pressure to put forth a credible explanation and the harder Western leaders will be pressed by public opinion and lawmakers to take credible action if Saudi Arabia is proven to be responsible.

A Saudi decision to act on its threats to rejigger its security arrangements and energy policy, even if overstated by Mr. Aldhakhil, in response to steps by Western nations to penalize the kingdom,  could prove to have not only far-reaching international consequences but, in the final analysis, also equally momentous domestic ones.

“Looks like #Saudi royal family is coming together to protect the family business. Eventually there will be internal reckoning with what transpired. Not now. Now is the time to save the family reign,” tweeted Middle East scholar Randa Slim.

Said former US State Department and White House official Elliott Abrams: “Jamal Khashoggi lost control of his fate when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Mohammed bin Salman must act quickly to regain control of his own.”

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Syrian Kurds between Washington, Turkey and Damascus

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The recent turmoil over Idlib has pushed the developments in Syrian Kurdistan out of political and mass media spotlight. However, it’s Idlib that will most likely host the final act of the drama, which has become known as the “civil war in Syria”.

The self-proclaimed Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), or Rojava, was formed in 2016, although de facto it has existed since 2012. Added later was the hydrocarbon-rich left bank of the Euphrates, which had been cleared of militants of ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation), and now the jurisdiction of the unrecognized DFNS extends to almost a third of the country’s territory.

From the very start the main threat to the existence of this predominantly Kurdish quasi-state came for obvious reasons from Turkey, where Turkish Kurds were set on securing autonomy. In addition, the most influential political force in Rojava, the Democratic Union Party, is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and the latter has officially been declared a terrorist organization and unofficially – a number one enemy – in Turkey.

In January-March 2018, the Turkish army, backed by the Arab and Turkomanen allies, occupied part of the territory of Rojava (canton Afrin). And it looks like Ankara plans to settle on these territories: recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Afrin will be transferred to its residents “when the time comes” and that “this time will be set by us”. In the meantime, according to local media reports, the demographic situation in the canton is changing rapidly. Taking advantage of the fact that many Kurds left their homes at the approach of the Turkish army, the local (in fact, Turkish) administration is bringing in Arabs here, who, in many cases, are not Syrian Arabs.

Kurdish politicians, fully aware of the fact that amid Turkey, Iran and Syria maintaining statehood without outside assistance is hardly possible, opted for the patronage of Washington. And, as it seems, they lost.

In Syria, the Americans decided to replay the “Kosovo scenario”, by turning part of a sovereign state into a political structure, which is allied to them. Washington, which only recently excluded the People’s Protection Units (the armed wing of the Democratic Forces), from the list of terrorist organizations, argues, like Ankara, that its military personnel will remain in the region “for an indefinite period” to protect Kurdish territories from “aggression” on the part of Damascus. And from Ankara’s ambitions as well. But this is read between the lines.

All this enabled Turkey to accuse the United States of supporting terrorism and relations between the two countries quickly deteriorated into a crisis. As mutual accusations, occasionally supported by political and economic demarches, persist, the parties, however, are beginning to look for common ground. Talks on June 4, 2018 in Washington between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo resulted in a “road map” for the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from predominantly Arab Manbij, which Kurds regained control of from ISIL (an organization banned in Russia) two years ago. The next day, the Turkish minister announced that the Kurdish troops “… would retreat east of the Euphrates. However, this does not mean that we will agree that they stay there. ” On September 24, 2018, upon arriving at the UN General Assembly, Erdogan confirmed: Turkey will expand its sphere of influence in Syria, by including areas that are under control of the Kurdish armed units.

If Turkey does not change its rhetoric, then the assurances of the American authorities that the US troops will remain in Syria are intermingled with statements about the need for the withdrawal of its forces from this country. In any case, it is unlikely that the United States will choose to leave the region “to its own devices”. We can recall how Washington trumpeted the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan! But things haven’t budged an inch since then. The Afghanistan example demonstrates that the Americans will not move out of Syria that easily – they will not pull out in full, at least not of their own free will. US instructors and pilots will remain here “for an indefinite period.” But who will they care of and support? Here are the options:

Firstly, it could be a hypothetical “Arab NATO” with Saudi Arabia in the lead. But there are serious doubts as to the effectiveness of such a structure – even if we forget about the level of combat readiness of these kinds of coalitions (in Yemen, for example), Arab countries could unite only on an anti-Israeli platform. And that, as history shows, is unlikely to yield success. In addition to this, it is still unclear how Kurds, the majority of whom are not religious, will react to Wahhabi commanders.

Secondly, the United States could choose to strengthen the Arab sector of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (Rojava militia) at the expense of the Kurds. In mid-September, a number of media outlets, citing sources in the Syrian opposition, reported that Saudi emissaries had already suggested this option while meeting with leaders of the Arab tribes living east of the Euphrates. However, this development is also fraught with the Kurdish-Arab confrontation.

Thirdly, Washington persists in its attempts to improve relations with Turkey,  distancing it from Russia and Iran, and instruct it to “maintain order” in the region: the Americans did not intervene in the Operation Olive Branch and made concessions on Manbij. Even though this might seem strange amid the hostile American-Turkish rhetoric, military and political contacts between Washington and Ankara have been on the rise in recent months. Moreover, President Erdogan has already stated that he believes in an early improvement of relations with the United States despite the “inconsistency” and “economic aggression” of Washington.

Meanwhile, we need to remember that the US control over Kurds is far from unlimited. The “people’s protection units” are ideologically close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or could even be seen as its “branch” in Syria), and the PKK itself, grown on the Marxist ideas, would normally support the Soviet Union and “by inertia” – Russia. For this reason, the Americans have to threaten the Kurdish allies with a cessation of military and financial support. Reports say the US and Turkish troops are already operating in the Manbij area, having dislodged the Kurdish YPG militia from the area.

These threats, along with the self-withdrawal of the United States during the capture of Afrin by Turkish troops, have made Kurds doubt the reliability of their patron. The result is a move towards rapprochement with Damascus. In late July, the Kurdish leadership announced an agreement with the Syrian authorities on the creation of a “road map” for the formation of a decentralized Syria.

The Americans are not sitting idle either, though it looks like they have no concrete plan of action. Such a conclusion comes from Donald Trump’s somewhat incoherent answers to questions from a correspondent of the Kurdish media group Rudaw (09/27/2018):

Question: What are you planning to do for (Syrian – AI) Kurds?

Answer: We will offer them a lot of help. As you know, we are good friends to them, we fought shoulder to shoulder with ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation), we recently defeated ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation). We accomplished this with the support of the Kurds. They are great warriors. You know, some nations are great warriors, and some are not. The Kurds are great warriors, they are a wonderful people. We are currently negotiating this.

Question: So what will you do to support them?

Answer: As I said, we will negotiate this, we have begun negotiations. The Kurds have helped us a lot to crush ISIS (an organization banned in the Russian Federation).

Most likely, the hot phase of the protracted inter-Syrian conflict is nearing its end, and the preferences of the Kurds will determine the outcome of future elections, a referendum, or another form of will expression of the Syrian people, when the political situation allows it. Moscow has always called for involving Kurds in the negotiation process and on ensuring their full participation in the life of post-war Syria. “Russia insists that Kurds should participate in the process to determine the post-conflict future of Syria on a parity basis with other ethnic and religious groups of this country,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama.

Until recently, Damascus did not particularly pedal negotiations with Rojava, but being aware that the capture of Afrin by Turkish troops was not in its interests, it has adjusted its approach to the self-proclaimed territorial entity. It looks like Syrian leaders have opted for softening their stance, which was previously set on the revival of the country on the basis of unitarism. Otherwise, an agreement with the Kurds will be nowhere in sight.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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