MESOP : PKK/PYD COORDINATED BY PUTIN & ASSAD – Hammond: ‘Disturbing evidence’ that Kurds are coordinating with Syrian regime & Russia

Foreign Secretary says UK “uneasy” about Kurdish role in Syria, as YPG forces take advantage of northern offensive to take territory from US-backed rebels. – By Louisa Loveluck7:52PM GMT 23 Feb 2016 – THE INDEPENDENT UK

Britain has seen “disturbing evidence” that Kurdish forces are coordinating with the Syrian regime and the Russian air force, the Foreign Secretary has said.

The Kurdish YPG, which has become the West’s main ground force against Isil, has taken advantage of a massive regime offensive in north Syria to seize territory of its own from US-backed rebels, effectively leaving Washington in a proxy war with itself.

“What we have seen over the last weeks is very disturbing evidence of coordination between Syrian Kurdish forces, the Syrian regime and the Russian air force which are making us distinctly uneasy about the Kurds’ role in all of this,” Philip Hammond told Parliament on Tuesday.

After years of marginalisation at the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Syria’s Kurds have emerged as one of the war’s key power brokers, enjoying the support of both Washington and Moscow, even as the two powers square off on opposing sides of the conflict.

Although Syria’s government and rebel forces have tentatively agreed to begin a temporary ceasefire on Saturday, the participation of the YPG remains in doubt. Speaking on conditon of anonymity, a YPG official said on Tuesday that the group was “seriously examining” the US and Russian-brokered plan before deciding whether to take part.

For now, the Kurdish militia is closing in on Azaz, a rebel-held city near the Turkish border that has become one of the biggest prizes in the battle for northern Syria. If it falls, tens of thousands of Syrians who have sought refuge there from fighting outside the city could flee north to the closed Turkish border, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis that aid workers have described as the worst they have witnessed during five years of war.

Throughout 2014 and 2015, US-led warplanes supported the YPG as it has pushed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) from a broad stretch along the Turkish border, consolidating islands of territory that it one day hopes to join up into a mini Kurdish state.

But in recent months, the militia has turned towards Russia which is now providing the Kurds with the air cover needed to move in on rebel-held land along the Turkish border. In a sign of its warming relations with Russia, the YPG’s political wing, the PYD, was rewarded with a diplomatic mission in Moscow earlier this month. Turkish politicians saw the move as a deliberate provocation and part of a wider bid to expand Russian regional influence.

An Islamic State position on Kobane hill is taken out by an allied airstrike

An Islamic State position on Kobane hill is taken out by an allied airstrike

Now, six months into a game-changing intervention on Mr Assad’s behalf, Moscow is using a blistering campaign of bombing raids to weaken rebels fighting the Syrian regime. It is also baiting arch-rival Turkey, which is furious at the possibility of a de facto Kurdish state emerging along its border, even as it fights a militant Kurdish insurgency at home.

Last week, Ankara finally lashed out, shelling YPG positions over a period of several days in an act it described as “self-defence”. The deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, warned on Tuesday that Turkey would continue those attacks in the coming days “if necessary”.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s scheduled ceasefire, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said that continued fighting could lead to the breakup of the country. “It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if we wait much longer,” he said.

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Experts have voiced skepticism over whether the truce can take hold in any meaningful way. Although the deal requires Moscow to halt its air campaign against groups respecting the ceasefire, that does not include Isil or Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate group that sits at the heat of parts of Syria’s anti-regime uprising.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meet at the Kremlin in Moscow back in October last year:  Even Mr Kerry said on Tuesday that he could not be sure the ceasefire would work. When asked by Sen. Barbara Boxer whether it could turn out to be a “rope-a-dope deal” from Russia, alluding to the boxing tactic of exhausting an adversary by pretending to be trapped on the ropes while the opponent expends energy on punches that do little damage, the diplomat said: “It may be.”

He said Washington was considering a “plan B” for Syria if Moscow and Damascus were not serious about negotiating a political transition in the country, but would not elaborate on what that was.

The battle for northern Syria is also moving fast. Isil said on Tuesday that it had cut a key supply route for government forces between the northern city of Aleppo and central and western Syria. The Aamaq news agency, which acts as an unofficial media wing for the extremist group, said Isil fighters were in “full control” of Khanaser, a town southeast of the city of Aleppo.

A massive regime offensive in recent months has severely weakened rebel forces which had clung onto control of much of northern Aleppo for three years. Intense bombardment and heavy fighting has emptied entire villages of civilians, tens of thousands of whom are now camped out in squalid conditions along the Turkish border.

Isil also stands to benefit from the weakening of rebel forces in northern Syria, experts have warned, where rebel groups had been a bulwark against the extremist group’s further expansion.