Russia, Turkey quietly spar over Syrian Kurdistan  

By Mohammad Ballout – Al-Monitor – 7.8.2012 – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Vladimir Putin’s Middle East Special Envoy Mikhail Bogdanov met with the leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main force controlling the Kurdish areas in northern Syria. That undeclared meeting in Erbil coincided with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to Iraqi Kurdistan last Tuesday, July 31.

It was the first time that a high-ranking Russian official met with Kurdish officials close to Syrian territory. For about a year, the PYD has been administering that territory through elected bodies.

In the meantime, the United Nations General Assembly approved a Saudi-sponsored resolution condemning the Syrian regime’s violence and calling for a transitional process that starts with government forces ceasing the use of heavy weapons. Russia, China, and Iran voted against the resolution while Lebanon and Algeria abstained. Moscow expressed its deep “concern” for Syrian developments, especially in the city of Aleppo, which yesterday saw violent clashes in the district of Salahuddin as the Syrian army tried to enter it. There were deliberations to appoint a successor to Kofi Annan, the Arab and international envoy to Syria. The most prominent candidates for the position are former Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari who helped end the Kosovo conflict, Swiss Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, and former UN envoy to Afghanistan Stefan De Mistura. A Western diplomat said that Moratinos is the front-runner.

Russia and the Kurds

The Russians want to find out what the Kurds plan to do with the area they now control. The Kurds have become a major player in northern Syria after the Syrian army left the area to concentrate on other fronts. And the Turks are threatening to intervene in northern Syria. In Turkey’s Kurdish areas, there are daily clashes involving the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

This “Kurdish belt,” which is composed of PKK-controlled cities and municipalities within Turkey and “west Kurdistan” in Syria, constitutes the PYD’s strategic depth and an effective deterrent against the Turkish army. That deterrent “may blow up in the army’s face if it tries to enter Syria’s Kurdish areas,” a PKK official in Europe told As-Safir.

A Syrian Kurdish official told As-Safir that the delegation that met with Bogdanov is the same delegation that Ahmet Davutoglu refused to meet with on the grounds that its PYD members are with the PKK, which Davutoglu accuses of terrorism.

The Kurds assured Bogdanov that the autonomous administration was established to compensate for the Syrian government’s absence in the area, that it will end when things settle down, that Syrian Kurds do not intend to secede and are working within the framework of the Syrian state and that the Kurds will not be a cause of tension for the countries of the region. The opposition source said that Ahmet Davutoglu tried to split the Kurds and has undermined the Kurdish agreement — between the PYD and 14 Kurdish political parties in the Kurdish National Council — stipulating the formation of a joint supreme body to manage the People’s Council for West Kurdistan and the bodies emanating from it.

The Turkish Foreign Minister succeeded in sowing discord between the Kurds last Wednesday [August 1] by insisting that he meet only with Abdul Basit Sida, the president of the Turkey-sponsored Syrian National Council (SNC) and representatives of Kurdish parties but not with the PYD.

A Syrian Kurdish opposition member said that PYD Secretary General Salih Muslim accused the other Kurdish parties of harming the Kurd’s united position by agreeing to Turkish conditions and by attending a meeting that excluded the PYD, their partner in the Supreme Kurdish Council.

The Syrian Kurdish opposition member said that the PYD believes that a deal was struck between the Kurdish parties and the SNC whereby they would be part of SNC institutions and thus isolate the PYD. The PYD accused the other parties of taking a unilateral decision without going back to the Supreme Kurdish Council and promised to respond to this unilateral decision by not returning to Erbil and by directing anyone who wants to meet with the PYD to go to the headquarters of the People’s Council for west Kurdistan in Qamishli, Syria.

SNC President Abdul Basit Sida said in Erbil that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has not and will not withdraw from Aleppo where it is fighting the regular forces. He noted that the SNC is in contact with the combatants fighting Bashar al-Assad “to provide them with supplies.”

Aleppo and the UN General Assembly.

The violent clashes in Aleppo, in northern Syria, continued on Friday [August 3] as the regular forces tried to break into the district of Salahuddin. The regular army was able to advance about 50 meters into Salahuddin while FSA fighters succeeded in fully controlling the district around the radio station and some police and security stations, according to the leader of FSA’s Nour al-Haq battalion, Wasel Ayyoub. UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said that the “main” battle for Aleppo is “imminent.”

Elsewhere, the 193-nation UN General Assembly approved a Saudi-sponsored non-binding draft resolution expressing “concern” for the escalation of violence in Syria. There were 133 votes in favor of the resolution, 12 against, and 31 abstentions. The resolution condemned “the increasing use by the Syrian authorities of heavy weapons, including indiscriminate shelling from tanks and helicopters” and called on the Syrian regime to fulfill its promise to “withdraw its troops and heavy weapons to their barracks.” The resolution requested the formation of a “transitional council that governs by consensus” and that all parties cooperate with Arab and international envoy Kofi Annan to implement a transitional phase that paves the way for free elections.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “Moscow is very concerned about the dangerous development in Syria’s situation, the continued violence and the provocations intended to expand the conflict and its brutality,” stressing that “the Syrian civilians’ suffering keeps getting worse.” Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said in Moscow that President Assad’s departure will not solve the Syrian crisis. In a press conference at the Russian capital, Jamil said, “Let us assume that [the president] resigns. Then what? The [other] parties cannot even agree on starting a dialogue or sitting at the negotiating table.” He added that a dialogue should be opened to resolve the crisis politically. He noted that if Assad leaves, then there will be no party to negotiate with.

Jamil accused the US, which, like the Syrian opposition, insists on Assad’s departure, of lying. He said, “The West’s position is mendacious because it does not contribute to realizing the conditions for dialogue and does not want peace but rather continued bloodshed.”