11 December 2019 12:16

The limits of the US and Russian relations with the Kurds

The question of the current and future place of Kurds, who played an important role in the process of fight against ISIS, also comprise one of the substantial key points in the resolution plans of both the imperialist powers.

Photograph: DHA

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Yusuf KARATAS

Kurds were left in the position of being a people without status on the lands they lived on divided between four countries with the Sykes-Picot Agreement signed nearly a hundred years ago. And a hundred years later, due to ethnic and sectarian tensions stoked by the Syrian war and in the process of fighting against ISIS which had spread over to Syria and Iraq, redrawing the borders was widely debated. However, once the US and Russia, which are busy waging a war for domination in the region (Middle East) through the Syrian war, are considered, it could be seen that both the imperialist forces are after resolutions which will not undermine the regional status quo or pave the way for maps changing but those which will adjust the balances of power in their favour.

The question of the current and future place of Kurds, who played an important role in the process of fight against ISIS, also comprise one of the substantial key points in the resolution plans of both the imperialist powers.

As it is known, contrary to predictions of those who instigated the Syrian war, this war increased the regional power and influence of Russia and Iran, and in the face of this, the US had implemented a strategy which placed the fight against the ISIS at its centre in order to maintain its position. Beginning from the period of siege of Kobanê, this strategy had paved the way for it to develop its relations and cooperation with the Kurds who were striving to oppose ISIS aggression in order to defend their living spaces. These relations and cooperation, especially after the Raqqa operation had evolved into a point where the Kurds were increasingly more aligned to the US’ strategy. Due to this reason, Trump administration’s move that paved the way for the Erdoğan government’s “Peace Spring” operation by the withdrawal of the US soldiers from the autonomous zone in the east of Euphrates where it collaborated with the Kurds, had raised significant reactions within the US too.

Recently, the US secretary for defence, Esper made a statement which was interesting in terms of demonstrating the limits of the US’ cooperation with the Kurds. This is Esper’s response to a question about the disappointment they have caused amongst the Syrian Kurds: “At no point, we said that ‘We are here to help you to form an autonomous state’. We never told them that ‘We will protect you against Turkey which has been a NATO member for the last 70 years”. Concerning Erdoğan government, Esper stated in the same event that “I am of the opinion that it is in the interests of all of us for them to get closer to NATO”.

As stated clearly by Esper, the US is defending not the Kurds but its interests in the region. Moreover, by paving the way for the ‘Peace Spring’ operation with the withdrawal from positions where it collaborated with the Kurds, the US is also actually opening the way for a process where it can draw the government in Turkey to its own political axis. President Erdoğan’s championing of defence of NATO alongside the US President Trump against Macron’s criticisms in the last NATO summit demonstrates this.

We had witnessed the same in the process of independence referendum in September 2017 in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Despite the propaganda that the US will help found a ‘Kurdish state,’ the US did not support this referendum. This is because the founding of a Kurdish state did not serve the interests of the US in the region in that period.

Hence, despite the appearances, what determines the limits of the US relations and cooperation with the Kurds, as is the case with other countries and powers in the region, is the extent to which this cooperation serves the US interests.

Furthermore, the leaving of Kurds high and dry recently in the process of ‘Peace Spring’ has also shown that the US does not hesitate to sacrifice its smaller interests when bigger ones become concerned. For, as stated by Esper, in terms of US interests, it was more of a priority for Turkey to be drawn closer to the NATO and the US axis -incidentally, the US is needing Turkey even more for its strategy of encircling Iran- than the cooperation undertaken with the Kurds.

The ‘Peace Spring’ operation too has to be viewed from this perspective: this operation utilised as a foothold for the Erdoğan government’s propaganda that Turkey is a strong and independent country in fact paves the way in fact for this government’s realigning with US’ regional strategy.

Well, what of Russia’s policy towards the Kurds?

Despite following a continuous policy with regards the legitimacy of rights demands by Kurds in Syria and the recognition of Kurdish organisations, considering that it enters the fray only when its own interests are concerned in terms of the use of these rights or engagement with Kurdish organisations, Russia resembles the US. For this reason, as examples, it was the same Russia who gave carte blanche for the Afrin operation in order to undermine US plans by bringing Turkey, a NATO member to loggerheads with the US and in order to force the Kurds who were collaborating with the US to negotiate with the Syrian administration; it was also the same Russia that entered the fray for Kurds to abandon the border regions on the east of Euphrates to the Syrian administration against the operation of the Turkish government after the withdrawal of the US.

Put differently, Kurds are being treated by Russia in a way which accords with their place in the struggle for regional dominance it is waging against the US. Russia, on occasions, accepting the intervention threats of the government in Turkey, silently approved the Syrian administration’s definition of Kurds also as “separatist terrorists”. On occasions, acknowledging Kurds’ contribution, they said they played an important role in the success in Syria. In this period when a search for resolution in between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian administration are ongoing with Russia as a guarantor, this policy is laid bare with the way Putin responded to allegations by some Russian experts incriminating the Kurds in TV programmes by stating that “I don’t know what nonsense is being talked about there. Russia is a friend of Kurdish peoples”.

In conclusion, a hundred years after the Sykes-Picot too, there exists no resolution in which Kurds will determine their own futures within the imperialist plans for the region. The extent to which Kurds and the peoples of the region can go beyond a resolution whose limits are determined by the imperialists are today closely tied with the extent to which they will unite on a line of struggle that is only and only anti-imperialist democratic no matter how hard it is in the current conditions of imperialist siege.

Reklam