Just four days after drawing down the bulk of Russian forces in Syria, President Vladimir Putin was quietly redrawing the Syrian map on federal lines, and planting Russian influence in its first semiautonomous region. debkafile’s intelligence sources report that the Russian leader's hand was behind the establishment of the Syrian Kurdish federal region on March 17, at a meeting of Kurdish Democratic Union Party leaders in the Syrian town of Rmeilan.
The new self-ruling entity covers three Kurdish-controlled enclaves:: Jazira, Hassakeh and Qamishli and the two cities of Kobani and Afrin, They include areas captured in battle from the Islamic State.
One of the DUP leaders, Nawaf Khalil, noted the presence at the ceremony of representatives of the three enclaves, some parts of which are still controlled either by the Syrian army, Syrian rebel groups or ISIS.
The Syrian Kurds are expected next to fight, with Russian backing, to connect the three enclaves into a contiguous self-ruled territory 500-kilometer long, adjacent to the Turkish border.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has warned repeatedly that Ankara would not tolerate the establishment of Kurdish self-rule in Syria and would send his army across the border to prevent it. Our sources report that Putin has assured Kurdish leaders that the Russian air force would be there to defend the new region if Turkey invaded.
Erdogan tried to enlist the Obama administration for action to deter the Kurds from its step.
But the State Department only responded to the Kurdish initiative after the event. "We don't support self-ruled, semiautonomous zones inside Syria,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby Thursday night. “Whole, unified, nonsectarian Syria — that's the goal."
The new Kurdish federal region turns out to be the first no-fly zone over northern Syria, which the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia long advocated, but which has finally comes into being under the Russian aegis.
President Bashar Assad, Moscow’s ally, strongly opposes the Kurdish move, as the first step in the country’s breakup into ethnic or religious federal entities. But Assad is helpless to fight back or bomb the Kurdish enclaves when Moscow stands behind them and some Russian warplanes remain in Syria for any contingencies.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources find significance in the location of the Kurds’ ceremonial declaration of their semiautonomous region: The only US base in Syria is located outside Rmeilan. It houses US and allied special operations forces with helicopters for fighting the Islamic State.
Clearly, Putin was perfectly willing to show the Americans what he was about.
In any case, US officials, such as Secretary of State John Kerry, have been talking freely to Middle East leaders about a federal solution for Syria as Washington’s Plan B, should the current talks between the warning sides in Geneva fail to reach an accord on a political solution for ending the calamitous five-year war.