How the Americans and the Russians see the Kurds

The Kurds are a natural ally for both the Americans and the Russians. The Kurds are surrounded by enemies, and they are the most pro-American player in the region, leaving of course Israel aside. The Kurds are a natural enemy for Turkey, and thus they are a natural ally for Russia too, since Turkey is the biggest obstacle for the Russian energy policy (see Russia vs Turkey: The Geopolitics of the South and the Turk Stream Pipelines).

Picture 1

Kurdistan Iran TANAP

The situation within Kurdistan is the following. The Kurds of the Iraqi Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) i.e. the KRG, are very rich in oil and natural gas, and they need Turkey, in order to export their reserves. That makes relations between the Kurds of Iraq and the Kurds of Turkey (PKK) and of Syria (PYD) very difficult, because the Kurds of Turkey and Syria do not have any oil and natural gas, and they want a share of the oil and natural gas of the Iraqi Kurdistan. As a consequence, Turkey has very good relations with the Kurds of Iraq, and very problematic relations with the Kurds of Syria and Turkey. Before moving any further take a look at the following map from the Spiegel article, titled “Erdogan’s Cynical Game: Is Turkey Creeping Toward Civil War”?, 31st July 2015.

Picture 2

Map Areas Controlled by ISIS

The map shows the situation in Syria and Iraq at the end of July 2015. You can see similar maps in most articles of the major news agencies for the same period. You can see that with the help of the United States the Kurds have many territories under their control. The Kurds have almost reached the Mediterranean Sea. It would be a great gift for the Americans and the Europeans if the Kurds could reach the Mediterranean Sea, in order to send their oil and gas to Europe without Turkish interference. However, as you can read in the Spiegel article, Turkey is not willing to tolerate a Kurdish state in Syria.

For the Russians and the Americans there are two different situations with the Kurds, one in Turkey and the other in Syria and Iraq. Even though the Americans are a natural ally of the Kurds, they do not want the Kurds to attack the pipelines that transfer to Turkey the oil and natural gas of Azerbaijan, Iran and Iraq. For the Russians on the other hand, bombing and sabotaging these pipelines would be a gift. Therefore the Americans can only support the Kurds in Turkey (PKK) if they do not attack the pipeline infrastructure, and that’s a very big constraint for the Kurds of the PKK. If they do attack the infrastructures, it is very difficult for the Americans to persuade the Turks not to bomb their hideouts in the mountains of Northern Iraq. Therefore even though both the Americans and the Russians see the Kurds as a natural ally, they have very different expectations from them.

On Syria on the other hand, the Americans can help the Syrian Kurds (PYD) as much as they can, because the more territories the Kurds gain, the better it is for the Americans. If the Kurds reach the Mediterranean Sea it will be even better for the Americans. And you can see that the red region on the map, which is the region controlled by the Syrian Kurds, is expanding like a snake towards the Mediterranean Sea, and the Americans have definitely played a role in that. There is only one limitation for the Americans in Syria, concerning how much they can help the Syrian Kurds, and that is Turkey, because as I said Turkey would not tolerate a Kurdistan that would reach the Mediterranean Sea, and at the same time it would block Turkey’s connection with the Middle East. And the Americans badly need Turkey for the construction of the Southern Energy Corridor, and not only for that.

As you can see on the Spiegel map, the buffer zone that was agreed between the Turks and the Americans, between Kobani and Azaz, prevents the Kurds from reaching the Mediterranean Sea bypassing Turkey, and at the same time it keeps Turkey connected to Iraq and the Middle East. Note that the brown line is the line controlled by ISIS, and it is not a secret that Turkey has some influence over ISIS. Maybe the buffer zone, which will be at some point occupied by the Turkish army, is what Turkey had to take in order to help the US fight ISIS. Turkey recently allowed the Americans to use her military base of Incirlic, something that Turkey has been denying for months.

Russia would like a strong Syrian state at the south of Turkey, because it would be one more problem for Turkey. But Russia would not like a Kurdistan that could reach the Mediterranean Sea. Russia is already facing potential competition from the Southern Energy Corridor (Caspian Sea-Turkey-Europe), from the Iran-Iraq-Syria Pipeline, from the East Med Pipeline (Israel-Cyprus-Greece), and a Kurdish axis would be for Russia one more source of potential competition in Europe. Russia counts on Europe for her sales in the oil and natural gas markets. Germany is Russia’s largest client, and Turkey is the second largest.

Therefore it is very different the way that Russia and America see the Kurds. They both see them as allies, but in Turkey the Kurds can move against the American interests, and in Syria the Kurds can move against the Russian interests. As you can see at the following Stratfor article, titled “Turkey: Another Explosion Halts Pipeline Flows”, 4th August 2015, there has been explosions in the pipeline that carries natural gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey through Georgia. A few days ago there were explosion in the Iran-Turkey oil pipeline and the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline. Stratfor says it is not known who has carried out these attacks. But what is for sure is that the explosions and the recent Turkish air strikes against the PKK are related.

A very good article about what I have said is Al Monitor’s “US support of Syrian Kurds ruffles Turkey’s feathers”, August 2015.

What the Al Monitor article you will read that the USA recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization, but the Americans are not willing to designate its Syrian affiliates i.e. the PYD and the YPG as terrorist organizations too.

For Russia’s support to the PKK see“Despite big strides in relations, Russia yet to recognize PKK as terrorist organization”, October 2012.

For the Spiegel article see “Erdogan’s Cynical Game: Is Turkey Creeping Toward Civil War”?, 31st July 2015

For the Stratfor article see

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