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MURAT YETKİN >What does Russia say about an independent Kurdistan?

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Many in the Turkish media are happy to slam Israel and the U.S. over support for the Kurdish independence referendum, which would divide Iraq and have the potential to do the same to Turkey, but very little is said on Russia’s stance.

Moscow’s most recent position was detailed in a written statement by Russia’s foreign ministry on Sept. 27, days before President Vladimir Putin was due to come to Ankara for talks on Syria, Iraq and the NATO-incompatible S-400 missile system that Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan wants to buy.

The statement made the following points:

- “We maintain our unwavering commitment to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the friendly Iraq and other Middle Eastern states.”

- “Moscow respects the national aspirations of the Kurds.”

- “We believe that all disputes that may exist between the Iraqi federal government and the government of the Autonomous Kurdish Region can and should be solved through constructive and respectful dialogue, with a view to devising a mutually acceptable formula of coexistence within a single Iraqi state.”

A day before that statement, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told Russia Today that Damascus could discuss Kurdish demands for autonomy in northern Syria once the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or DAESH, is defeated. The statement was later reported by Syria’s state news agency SANA, and it is safe to assume that this is a joint stance of Syria and Russia, which remains the biggest supporter of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Earlier in February, after a Kurdish conference was held in Moscow, it was leaked to the press that Russia was in favor of a new constitution in Syria that would be open to Kurdish autonomy. That was followed by an important gesture in March, when the U.S.-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria left their Turkey-objected positions around Manbij to the Russia-backed Syria army.

There are two ironies in this picture. The first irony is that there is an ongoing rift between Turkey and its NATO ally the U.S. about the use of the YPG against ISIL, as the YPG is the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been in a fight against Turkey for over three decades. The second irony is that the Russians and Syrians are winking at the PKK-led Syria Kurds, knowing that they are currently fighting as the ground force of the U.S.

But it is obvious from Russian positions in Syria and Iraq that Moscow is trying to push for strengthened Kurdish autonomy in both countries, along the borders with Turkey. If that position comes to be supported by the U.S., it could cause even bigger problems between Ankara and Washington than already exist. This being the case, it is deeply ironic that Moscow’s stance on Kurds in Iraq and Syria does not seem to be creating any new problems between Turkey and Russia.

The current outlook allows us to forecast a few developments in the near future if both the Americans and the Russians remain in favor of strong Kurdish federalism in both Syria and Iraq. Among these is a possible compromise between Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PKK, as well as a possible change of sides of the PKK from the U.S. to the Russia-backed Syrian regime, before or after ISIL is defeated.

Turkey should certainly be prepared for such scenarios.

September/28/2017

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