A very interesting article by Al Monitor, for the competition between the Americans and the Russians for influence over the Kurds of Syria. See “US, Russia compete to woo Syrian Kurds”, May 2016.
The Americans keep saying that the Kurds of Syria (PYD and YPG) are different from the Kurds of Turkey (PKK). However, according to Al Monitor, the Americans see with uneasiness the growing coordination between the Kurds of Syria, the Russians and the Assad regime. The English Foreign Minister publicly said that the Kurds of Syria coordinate their forces with the Russians and the Assad regime, while the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the Kurds of Syria “hired soldiers of Russia”.
For the Kurds of Syria Al Monitor says that they are grateful to the Russians for their assistance, but they do not want to alienate themselves from the Americans either. At the same time the Russians encourage the Kurds of Syria to move west of the Euphrates river, while the Americans ask them to stay east of the river.
Al Monitor also mentions the traditional alliance between Russia and the Kurds, from the 19th century, when the Russian Tsar supported the Kurds against the Ottomans, to the communist Russia. Stalin was the first one to call for the an independent Kurdistan in the Iranian Kurdistan, and at the time the leader of the Kurdish army was Molla Mustafa Barzani, the father of today’s President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani. But when the Russian army left from the Iranian Kurdistan, the Iranian army crashed the the Kurds, and Barzani escaped to Russia through the Kurdish mountains in order to save himself.
During the Cold War Russia’s relations with the Kurds of Syria and Iraq were put on hold, but never collapsed, due to Russia’s alliance with the Syrian and Iraqi socialists, who overturned the pro-Western kings. But Russia never broke her alliance with the Kurds of Turkey. After all the Arabs of Syria were supporting the Kurds of Turkey, because Syria and Turkey were bitter rivals. The Iraqis on the other hand were cooperating with the Turks against the Kurds, and they allowed Turkey to enter the Iraqi territory in order to hunt the Kurds.
But let me come back to the present. If the Kurds of Syria start cooperating closely with the Russians, Turkey might find room to improve her relations with the United States. The big thorn in the American-Turkish relations in Syria is the Kurdish issue. There is ISIS of course, but the Turks have said that if the Americans give up their support to the Kurds of Syria, they will assist the US against ISIS, and they will support more moderate Sunni elements in Syria, like the Free Syrian Army that was supported by NATO. And we recently saw the Turks attacking ISIS, and ISIS throwing rockets to Turkey.
We should not forget that in Syria, leaving the Kurdish issue aside, the Turks and the Americans have closer interests than the Americans and the Russians. The Americans would like to see the Sunni pipelines (Qatar-Turkey and Iraq-Turkey), the Shia pipelines (Iran-Syria) and the Sunni-Shia pipelines (Iran-Turkey). Therefore if the Americans were willing to give up the Kurds of Syria, the Turks would give up ISIS, and they could together support the Free Syrian Army and fight the Russians and ISIS.
The Kurds of Syria find themselves in a strange situation, because they are lucky enough to have the Americans, the Russians and the Europeans supporting them against the Turks and the Sunnis of Syria, but they also find themselves in the middle of a Russo-American fight. Life is always difficult for the frogs when the bulls are fighting around them.
Theoretically it would be good for the Russians to allow the Americans to influence the Kurds of Syria, because the Kurdish-American alliance hurts the Turkish-American alliance. But the Turks are pounding the Kurds of Turkey, and the Russians have to support them through the Kurdistan of Syria. There is no other way to do that, because Iran would not do it, since it exports oil and gas to Turkey through Kurdistan, and the Kurds of Iraq would not do it either for the same reason. Therefore it is only through the Kurds of Syria that the Russians can support the Kurds of Turkey.
The situation in Syria is also very difficult for the Americans in Syria. The Americans have a motive to cooperate with Russia, but if they do that they will push Turkey in the arms of Russia, and they will also have to give up on the pipelines that will connect the Middle East and Europe. The United States at some point will have to choose sides, while at the same time the Turks and the Russians can ally to send gas to Europe through the Turk Stream, if Turkey accepts to abandon her independent energy policy.
If the Americans cooperate with Russia in the Middle East and Europe, they will lose Turkey, but at the same time they will hurt the Russo-Chinese axis. Russia and China have many opposing interests, and a main reason for their alliance is their common rivalry with the United States. See “Russia VS China”
If the Americans help the Russians, they can alienate Russia and China. It is true that Russia exports oil to China, but Russia is mainly exporting to Europe. And in the future it will be more convenient for China to import from Central Asia (Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Iraq) than to import from Russia, since it is not very easy to construct the Altai and the Power of Siberia Pipelines, in order to connect the rich oil fields of West Siberia to China.
Russia can also export to Japan and South Korea, two strong American allies. And there has been some talks between Russia, Japan and South Korea for the construction of a pipeline. See “Russia VS North Korea”.
But as I said if the Americans ally themselves with the Russians they will lose Turkey. But you can not have everything. Turkey and Russia are two fascist countries, but at least Russia is a Christian country. Therefore the United States could choose to cooperate with Russia, and leave Turkey to China. After all the American allies in Europe, France and Germany, have much better relations with Russia than they have with Turkey.
“US, Russia compete to woo Syrian Kurds”, May 2016