Russia paves the way for the YPG to be a party to Syria’s talks
If you’re a journalist covering Turkish foreign policy and developments in the region, you need to have your head on a swivel and be ready to work on 24/7 basis. You should also be up-to-date on key foreign policy matters, as well as the positions of each and every state and non-state actor.
That’s the only way to provide objective and insightful reporting and commentary on the multilateral and worrying conflicts in Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean. The ongoing tension in the Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece is nowadays hitting the headlines of media outlets not only in Turkey and Greece but also in many European countries.
Likewise, the developments in oil-rich Libya are also being followed very closely, especially after a ceasefire was announced by the country’s two main rivals on Aug. 21. A silent but intense diplomacy is being pursued by all the countries involved in the conflict amid rumors of a change in balance to the disadvantage of Turkey. A new state of affairs is obviously unfolding in the country, and we’ll soon see what it looks like.
Syria constitutes another main area of Turkish foreign policy for very obvious reasons. The rise of the People’s Defense Units (YPG), designated as a terror organization by Turkey because of its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), since 2015 after the United States chose it as its local partner in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has had a drastic impact on Turkey’s security policies concerning Syria.
It’s not just the United States, but many Western powers, including France, have also lent huge political and military support to the YPG, which now controls almost all of eastern Syria thanks to its around 40,000 heavily armed men and women. Upon the advice of Washington, the YPG has changed its name to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in a bid to expand its legitimacy in the world.
A recent deal signed between an American energy company and the YPG over the exploration, drilling and marketing the oil reserves under the control of the group to the east of the Euphrates has deepened Ankara’s anger and concerns over the real motive of U.S. policies in Syria. The deal is expected to generate around $400 million revenue for the YPG, which has not hidden its goal to establish autonomous rule on the territories it now controls.
But there’s more bad news for Ankara from Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with a group of representatives of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), whose members are composed of the YPG leaders, in the Russian capital on the same day a senior Turkish delegation was in town for talks with their counterparts.
Russian intervention has resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the SDC and the People’s Will Party of Syria to cooperate in the course of achieving a democratic Syria under the principles set by Article 2254 of the U.N. Security Council. It also stipulates the inclusion of the SDC into the existing political process and the Constitutional Committee which has finished its third round of meetings among regime, opposition and civil society representatives in Geneva.
Plus, the deal emphasizes the experience of the autonomous administration in eastern Syria “as a form of people’s authority and self-governance.”
Moscow has long been looking into ways to integrate the YPG into the political process and to mend its ties with Damascus, although it has been seriously disturbed by the group’s close relationship with the Americans.
It has never heeded Ankara’s complaints about the YPG’s office in Moscow and close cooperation between the YPG and Russian military in some parts of western Syria. For example, Russia has permitted the YPG to maintain a presence in Tal Abyad, from which the group has opened fire against Turkish troops in the past.
Introducing the YPG under the name of the SDC into the Geneva process is yet another major step taken by Russia.
The respective stances of the U.S. and Russia concerning the YPG reveal once again how isolated Turkey is in its rhetoric and position against the group it considers a terror organization. Turkey’s interlocutors are well aware of the organic relationship between the PKK and the YPG, but they simply ignore it because of their political priorities in the Syrian theater.
The YPG clause in Turkey’s relationship with both Moscow and Washington will continue to pose significant trouble in the coming period.