Alarmed by a U.S. decision to leave Syria, Kurdish leaders who run much of the north are urging Russia and its ally Damascus to send forces to shield the border from the threat of a Turkish offensive.
Their call for a return of Syrian government forces to the border, which Kurdish fighters have held for years, points to the depth of their crisis in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw forces.
|Let down by U.S., Syrian Kurdish leaders look to Russia and Assad
While little has changed on the ground yet - U.S. forces are still deployed and Trump says the pullout will be slow - Kurdish officials are scrambling for a strategy to protect their region from Turkey before the United States leaves.
Talks with Damascus and Moscow appear to be the focus for the Kurdish leadership. Their worst fear is a repeat of a Turkish attack that drove Kurdish residents and the YPG militia out of Afrin city in the northwest earlier this year.
They are also trying to convince other Western countries to fill the vacuum when Washington withdraws some 2,000 troops whose presence in northern and eastern Syria has deterred Turkey so far.
The territory at stake spans about a quarter of Syria, most of it east of the Euphrates River, controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group dominated by the Kurdish YPG. The area borders Iraq to the east and includes three major cities - Qamishli, Hasaka and Raqqa.
The SDF has been Washington’s main Syrian partner in the fight with Islamic State, but Turkey views the YPG fighters that form its backbone as a threat and has vowed to crush them.
Officials from northern Syria, who went to Moscow last week, will soon make another trip, hoping Russia will push Damascus to “fulfill its sovereign duty”, top Kurdish politician Aldar Xelil told Reuters.
“Our contacts with Russia, and the regime, are to look for clear mechanisms to protect the northern border,” said Xelil, an architect of autonomy plans in northern Syria. “We want Russia to play an important role to achieve stability.”Reuters