The French connection in US Kurdish game in Syria

The French connection in US Kurdish game in Syria


One of the most interesting statements regarding developments in Syria on March 30 came from Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff. “The native Arab population has begun an uprising against U.S.-controlled units in the suburbs of Raqqa,” Rudskoy said. “The command of the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] and local governments appointed by the Americans cannot cope with the need to resolve humanitarian problems. The native Arab population is subjected to repression and punishment, forced mobilization is being carried out. This causes sharp discontent among local residents.”

The Russian general’s message to the Americans in de facto control of Syrian territories east of the river Euhphrates was clear: We are there right in the middle of your presence.

At around same time, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan was busy slamming French President Emmanuel Macron over the latter’s hosting of a delegation from the SDF a day before at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The delegation included figures from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which are the Syrian extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that is designated as a terrorist group not only by Turkey but also by France and the U.S.

Macron vowed support to the SDF officials, who complained of the Turkish military campaign against the YPG in the northwestern Syrian district of Afrin. As has been admitted by General Raymond Thomas of the U.S. Special Forces, the SDF is a PR-friendly name to obscure the YPG’s links to the PKK. While confirming France’s “support,” the Elysee denied reports by Kurdish sources in the meeting that France is ready to send troops to Syria to defend them against Turkish troops.

It may be worth remembering at this stage that Turkey, France and the U.S. are all members of the same military alliance, NATO.

The sequence of events that brought Erdoğan to cross swords with Macron, who had hosted him in Paris in January, started when Turkish troops and Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels backed by the Turkish military took the town of Afrin on March 20 from the control of the YPG, which had seized the town in the early stages of Syria’s civil war.

On March 21, U.S. President Donald Trump and Macron had a telephone conversation. The White House readout said the subjects addressed focused on showing solidarity with the U.K. against Moscow over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and trade tariffs between the U.S. and the European Union.

On March 23, former French President François Hollande slammed Turkey over its Afrin campaign and accused Macron of not supporting Kurdish “fighters” against Turkey.

On March 24, Macron had a telephone call with Erdoğan. (Speaking on March 30, the Turkish president said that when Macron started to use “strange words” about the Turkish military he had to “use a higher frequency” in reply.)

On March 25, Erdoğan had a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which the two mainly discussed Syria.

On March 29, Trump said in a speech in Ohio that the U.S. would be “coming out of Syria like very soon.” Neither the State Department nor the Department of Defense confirmed an immediate withdrawal, but Trump signaled that the U.S. presence in Syria would not be forever and as long as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is cleared from the territories currently under control (to the east of the Euphrates) he wanted to “let the other people take care of it.”

In the next hour the statement came from France in defense of the SDF, which Turkey sees as basically equivalent to the PKK - an existential terrorist threat.

France has made it clear that it will not be sending troops to Syria in defense of the YPG/PKK. So the means that France will use to support them is now an open question, other than organizing another Kurdish conference in Paris - like ones in previous years - without bringing any solid results.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on March 30 that the French statement was “not something serious,” adding that he thought it was simply Macron’s attempt to put France and himself in the Middle East picture.