Last Tuesday, the Russian forces evacuated a number of their points in al-Shahba canton, and the Russian move was followed by news of an Iranian positioning in the points vacated by Russia, but Russia retreated from its partial withdrawal one day after the withdrawal without providing any explanations. Russia has already taken similar steps in Tal Tamr and Ain Issa.
In this context, the Vice-Presidency of the Executive Council of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, Badran Çiya Kurd, evaluated in a dialogue with ANHA agency the Russian approach to the Syrian file in general and North and East Syria in particular.
The full text of the dialogue reads:
Were you aware in advance of the Russian withdrawal, and how do you assess these steps?
Yesterday (April 14) we received information that the Russian forces withdrew from many of their military outposts and stationed near Aleppo. We are closely following this matter with Hmeimim and Moscow to find out the reasons for this withdrawal. There are two important possibilities, the first is an agreement with the occupying Turkish state to hand over some villages to the mercenaries of the Turkish state. Everyone knows that discussions are taking place between the Turkish state and Russia to conclude a deal on al-Shahba canton and the town of Tal Rifaat. If there is such a thing indeed, it will not serve the Syrian people and it will not serve stability and solution. A possible agreement on these foundations would serve the extremist groups and the occupation. It will displace hundreds of thousands of civilians. There are more than 250 thousand civilians in this area, more than a hundred thousand of them are from the displaced from Afrin canton. If another attack occurred, it would cause a humanitarian catastrophe. Everyone should be sensitive about this reality.
If such an agreement takes place between Russia and Turkey, it will be the beginning of a new phase. The Syrian crisis, the humanitarian crises, and the intensification of the battles in the region will move to a more fierce and wider level.
The second possibility
The second possibility is that Russia and its official in the region are seeking concessions from the administration in the region and the Kurds. Before this, they followed a similar method in Al-Shahba and Ain Issa. Russia is seeking to achieve its goals in the east of the Euphrates. Threats and blackmail cannot be a solution. Existing problems can be solved through dialogue.
What is required from the Russian side is to build bridges of trust with the people of the region. With withdrawal, they weaken their confidence in the region. As it did when it withdrew from Afrin and repeated this several times in Tal Tamer and Ain Issa, this time it is repeated in Al-Shahba. This is a method that undermines confidence.
In which direction are you putting pressure?
Russian forces are constantly seeking to strengthen their presence in the region and expand their deployment. The military presence in the region is not limited to Russia and the Syrian Democratic Forces, there are the international coalition forces against ISIS and the American forces. This has become a point of contention between Russia and America. What is the reason for the presence of these forces in the area, in order not to cause problems in the area, those forces must move in coordination with the SDF? Russian forces seek to move according to their own whims and in an uncoordinated manner, seeking to move in every direction. We hope that Russians will move according to the joint mechanisms.
Undoubtedly, there are Russian demands on the economic level. We may have agreed on some points, and there are points that cannot be agreed upon as intended at the present time. There is a need for agreement and political guarantees. There must be political agreements that preserve and guarantee the rights of the people of the region. In this context, we can reach economic agreements. The economic resources in the region are for all of Syria. We want an agreement in this direction to be fair, in a way that guarantees the rights of the people of the region. At the present time, everyone seeks to achieve the maximum benefit without a political agreement and recognition of the rights of the people of the region.
We hope that Russia will put the situation in the region and the people in mind and pursue a policy that serves solution and peace in the region. The problems between us and Russia, and between us and Damascus, can be solved through dialogue. So far, Russia has not fulfilled its role as a guarantor state in the region. Constantly creating problems and seeking a result. This way she wants to solve her internal problems. Russia is facing political and economic problems at home. Recently, there has been a sharp dispute with NATO countries, Turkey and America over Ukraine. We do not want Russia to resort to bargaining, threats and concluding deals at the expense of the people of the region because of its differences with NATO countries and Turkey over Ukraine. This is not true. It will weaken the Russian role and influence in the region.
Withdrawals like this, could they continue?
Withdrawals like this have happened many times, and these are processes that are taking place at the local level. Russia cannot risk a complete withdrawal from the region. Because Russia considers its deployment in the region following the attacks on Serêkaniyê and Tel Abyad, following the withdrawal of American forces, an important victory for it. Russia is not thinking of withdrawing, but rather expanding its reach. Based on that, we do not believe that Russia will offer a complete withdrawal from the region. Russia is seeking to increase its reach and make more gains.
How do you see the Russian silence about the Turkish attacks on Ain Issa, Tal Tamr and Al-Shahba?
The ceasefire agreement was held, Russia did not play its role as a guarantor state to stop the attacks. On the contrary, Russia accuses the Syrian Democratic Forces. Russian forces accuse the SDF of the attack, and this is totally untrue. Turkey and its mercenaries launch attacks. There are plans to occupy more villages and regions. In this context, Russia must abide by the agreement and play its role. The SDF abides by its role.
How should the position of the people of northeast Syria be towards the Russian forces?
The position of our people is clear everywhere. The people expressed their rejection of the Russian forces' approach in al-Shahba. Our people do not accept this, and they should not. So far, the popular position has been firm. In Ain Issa and Al-Shahba, the people express their position. Our people will not accept that their interests are at the table of deals between Turkey and other parties. Social activities must escalate. We in the Autonomous Administration are holding dialogues with the political parties, with Russia and other parties, to push for a direction that ends these policies.
There are efforts by the Arab countries to return Syria to its empty seat in the Arab League. How are your relations with those countries at this stage?
In the Autonomous Administration, we attach great importance to establishing relations with Arab countries. Those relationships must be deepened and expanded. In the end, Syria is an Arab country, and the Arab countries have an important role to play in solving this country's crisis. But so far the Arab countries have not played that role. Recognition of the Autonomous Administration as a political project that serves the solution and the unity of Syria. The Autonomous Administration will not be a reason for the division of Syria and the establishment of an independent state. Because the Arab countries have concerns in this regard, they always stand by either Baghdad or Damascus. The Arab countries must give up these fears and know that resolving the Kurdish issue will not be a reason for the division of Syria. Solving the Kurdish issue will serve the unity of Syria and will strengthen it.
In the framework of the Arab countries' attempts, what will the Russian role be?
Some time ago Russia tried with the Arab countries. There was a tripartite meeting between Russia, Turkey and Qatar. Russia is seeking to woo Arab countries and employ them to serve their political interests in Syria. Russia is seeking to open horizons for a political solution under its auspices. Because all roads are blocked, the Constitutional Committee, Astana, and so forth. This time, Russia sought to put the Arab countries on its side and pave the way for a new initiative. Other parties sought to exert pressure on the Arab countries to push them to accept that. That the Damascus government return its representatives to the Arab League to gain legitimacy. Russia has sought to obtain Arab funding to alleviate the internal crisis in the areas of the Damascus government and to benefit from it.