Uncertainty looms over Syria Kurds as Putin hosts Turkish, Iranian counterparts

Erdogan ruled out any Kurdish participation in peace talks as Putin called for the inclusion under of all Syrian components under the UN observation.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) - Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Turkish and Iranian counterparts Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Wednesday to reach a solution for the civil war raging in Syria amid Ankara's persistent threats to stage an invasion of the Kurdish Afrin region there.

During a televised joint press conference after the summit, Erdogan praised the three countries' efforts for peace talks but ruled out his agreement with any Kurdish participation in the process.

Tehran and Moscow have been militarily and diplomatically backing the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime which Ankara-supported armed Islamist opposition unsuccessfully tried to topple throughout the war.

However, the trio now acts as the guarantor of a de-escalation deal between the respective sides they take, particularly in the Idlib Province, the last stronghold of the opposition dominated by al-Qaeda.

"Nobody should expect us to be under the same roof, on the same platform with a terrorist group that has designs against our national security," the Turkish President said of the Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

Putin and Rouhani did not mention the Kurds, although the former spoke of giving a "powerful impetus" to the political settlement on the basis of the 2015 UN Security Council Resolution 2254, a document envisaging the launching of a broad inter-Syrian dialogue involving all ethnic, confessional and political groups of the population, without exception.

"I mean the process of political settlement with the finalization of these negotiations within the framework of the Geneva process," Putin said, urging a UN-observed process.

Kurds' coming to prominence as US partners in the fight against the IS shifted Turkey's anti-Assad policy to an alignment with his backers; thus a gradual abandonment of the Syrian rebels that gained pace with the fall of the opposition-held city of Aleppo to government forces in late 2016.

"The exclusion of terrorist elements from the process shall remain among Turkey's top priorities," Erdogan added, calling the Kurdish forces "bloody-handed gangs who wanted to divide Syria" that could not be deemed as legitimate actors.

Putin welcomed Assad in Sochi during an unannounced trip by the latter, Nov 20, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)
Putin welcomed Assad in Sochi during an unannounced trip by the latter, Nov 20, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

Moscow disagrees with Ankara's designation of the US-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and its political umbrella the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as terrorists while Tehran has not taken any confrontational attitude toward them.

"The elimination of unfavorable [conditions] in Afrin will be a milestone," Erdogan said, once again expressing his administration's ambitions to capture the self-declared Kurdish autonomous region of Afrin in northwestern Syria.

Kurdish officials have vowed a stiff resistance should Turkey invade Afrin.

A top commander of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which Ankara views as the parent organization of the YPG this week called on Putin to deny Ankara green light for any operation.

Washington's position regarding such an eventuality against its Kurdish allies by another ally remains unclear.

Hours before the tripartite meeting, Rouhani and Erdogan, leaders of two countries with large, restive Kurdish populations, sat down joined by their respective delegations comprised of top army generals, foreign ministers, and spy chiefs.

Putin called for peace efforts to be focused on ensuring long-term normalization in Syria, stating a political solution required concessions from all sides, reported Russia's state-funded Tass news agency.

"The large-scale combat actions against terror groups in Syria are coming to an end," Putin said. "I note that the efforts of Russia, Iran, and Turkey have helped to prevent Syria’s breakup, not allow its takeover by international terrorists and avoid a humanitarian crisis."

Rouhani stated that the three countries agreed on the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

Moscow's efforts to include the de facto Kurdish administration in northern Syria in peace talks in Geneva or Kazakhstan's Astana have met with robust objection from Ankara as it remains unclear if the Kurds will agree to a proposed, Russia-initiated Peoples' Congress in the coming weeks.


Editing by Sam A.