Russia supports mediation between Syrian Kurds and Damascus: Ambassador

Elbrus Kutrashev, Russia's ambassador to Iraq, speaks at MERI Forum 2021. (Photo: Screenshot MERI livestream)
Elbrus Kutrashev, Russia's ambassador to Iraq, speaks at MERI Forum 2021. (Photo: Screenshot MERI livestream)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Elbrus Kutrashev, the Russian ambassador to Iraq, said during an annual event of the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) in the Kurdistan Region capital of Erbil that his government is attempting to facilitate a new negotiation process between Damascus and Kurdish-led forces that control areas in northeast Syria.

It's not an easy thing to do. It’s a very complicated process and our ambassador to Damascus is authorized to mediate,” he told participants and spectators attending MERI Forum 2021.

“As I said, it's not an easy thing because both sides are quite tough,” he continued. “It's not easy negotiation, but we managed to persuade them and they understand that they need to agree because any other option won’t be good for both of them.

But, he added, the process is moving “slowly because they do not trust each other.”

Talks between the Syrian government and the Kurdish-led self-administration have failed in the past despite Russian mediation.

The Syrian Kurdish leadership has pushed for some degree of autonomy in the northeast and official recognition of the local administration, but Damascus insists on the full return of all Syrian territory to central government control.

Read More: Russian FM says Syrian Kurds should follow Erbil-Baghdad example

Moreover, tensions between the Syrian Kurds and Damascus have led to fighting between the autonomous administration’s forces and pro-Syrian government militias in and around the northern cities of Qamishlo and Hasakah in the past.

When Turkey attacked the SDF in October 2019, the SDF allowed Syrian government troops to be positioned on the front lines to counter Turkish-backed militias but handed no territory over to Damascus.

Ambassador Kutrashev told the forum that he hopes Russia can reach some meaningful result in the talks, since the future of the Syrian Kurds is unclear.

“The position of the Syrian Kurds is very complicated; their future doesn’t look optimistic to me. They have become hostages of what they have done, or what they have had done to them in the recent years and the developments on the ground and this is very serious.”

Furthermore, he explained that his Russian colleagues in Damascus have “relations with the SDF on different levels. Our military officers in Syria have direct contacts with the SDF; we have political contacts with them. From time to time, we receive Ilham Ahmed and other members of the SDF leadership in Moscow.”

Read More: Syrian Kurdish delegation meets with Russian Deputy FM

Kutrashev also said that Russia has no issue with autonomy in Syria or in other countries. “Russia is a federal state and we have absolutely no problem with other countries becoming federal or having autonomy or something of this kind.”

He also added that the issue of Syrian Kurdistan is further complicated because the distribution of the Kurdish population across the country is very different from what Kurds have in Iraq.

“It's so natural for an ethnic minority or group to have autonomy or a kind of state in another state, like it is in Iraqi Kurdistan for example.” But, he said, it's not so easy to the West in Syria, since Kurdish majority areas (such as the Cizere region, Kobani, and Afrin) are not connected to each other and are all surrounded by areas dominated by other ethnicities.

He went on to say that Afrin, despite being the only area in the country where Kurds have held a strong position, has been occupied by Turkey since 2018. “But it's hard to speak about what is going to happen with Afrin, it's a tragedy.”

The Russian ambassador said that it will likely be difficult for the SDF to control Arab majority areas in the future, so the SDF should give more powers to local Arabs through elections.

Russia strongly believes, he said, that the SDF should be involved in the political process, although Turkey routinely vetoes this. 

“We believe and we very strongly believe that all Syrian sides involved should participate in the process.”