Top SDC delegation visits Russia for meetings: official

A top Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) delegation on Saturday arrived in Moscow to meet with Russian officials and a Syrian opposition party.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A top Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) delegation on Saturday arrived in Moscow to meet with Russian officials and a Syrian opposition party, SDC spokesperson Amjad Othman told Kurdistan 24.

According to Othman, one of the meetings in Moscow is with the Popular Will Party. The SDC is “preparing for a convention of the Syrian Democratic opposition,” he said, and the meeting “comes within the framework of this vision.”

“Our representatives went to Europe many times with the aim of meeting personalities from the opposition to Syria,” Othman added. “Workshops were held in European capitals that brought us together with Syrian figures opposed to the regime.”

Read More: Kurdish-backed body sets stage for democratic opposition conference inside Syria

The SDC delegation in Moscow includes top officials Sanharib Barsoum, Ilham Ahmed, Hikmat Habib, and Sihanouk Dibo.

Dibo told local media that the SDC is planning to sign a memorandum with the Popular Will Party, which is led by former Syrian deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil.

The SDC delegation is also expected to meet with officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Russian influence in northeast Syria has grown after Russian forces and Syrian government troops entered the northeast in a Moscow-negotiated agreement with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following a Turkish offensive and the pullout of US forces near the Syrian-Iraqi border in October 2019. 

According to a Pentagon watchdog report published in early February, at least 300 Russian military police are deployed in northeastern Syria, replacing US troops in the towns of Kobani, Raqqa, Tal Tamr, Amuda, and Ain al-Issa.

There are also approximately 600 US troops still present in Hasakah and Deir al-Zor provinces to protect oil infrastructure and support the SDF against the so-called Islamic State.

The mixed Russian-US presence in northern Syria has led to tensions between the two.

On Aug. 25, four US soldiers were injured when a Russian military convoy deliberately rammed a US military convoy in northeast Syria.

Read More: Russian vehicles ram US convoy in northeast Syria, injuring US troops

SDC Spokesperson Othman explained to Kurdistan 24 that the SDC’s contacts with Russia are not new.

“The Russians are in Syria and they have a major role. They have become present in the east of the Euphrates, and there is a need to discuss these relations with them constantly,” he said.

Some analysts believe Russia has its own interests in mind when it meets with the Kurdish-led groups.

Thomas McClure, a researcher at the Rojava Information Center (RIC), said Russia wants to pull the SDF away from the US and bring the northeast fully under Damascus’ control. The US, of course, opposes such a move. As a result, McClure suggested, the SDF is stuck between the demands of the Russians and the Americans.

If the US completely leaves Syria, then Russia is the only power that could prevent a very bloody return of the Syrian army, McClure added. “So, of course, the hope is that Russia can contribute to helping the SDF reach a deal with Damascus, but that seems very far off,” he said.

So far, talks between Damascus and the SDF have failed despite Russian meditation.

Tensions between the SDF and the regime have also increased. Media reports suggested that an oil deal was signed between Kurdish-led forces and an American company.

Read More: Pompeo supports SDF agreement with US company to modernize Syrian oil fields 

Russia, Turkey, and Iran condemned the oil deal in a joint statement on Aug. 25.

Dareen Khalifa, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told Kurdistan 24 that it remains to be seen if Russia can act as an effective mediator between the SDC and Damascus.

“The Kurdish leadership has every reason to suspect that Russia will not push Damascus to accept anything that Turkey might interpret as protecting or legitimizing the YPG (People’s Protection Units), given the priority the Kremlin appears to give to its relations with Ankara and given how Moscow reacted to the Turkish incursion into Afrin,” Khalifa stated.

“Besides seeking to help the regime restore control over all of Syria, Russia also has been keen to sow divisions within NATO; tilting toward Turkey in its tug of war with the YPG could serve the dual purpose of winning favor with Ankara while further complicating Washington’s presence in Syria.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany