US, Russia broach Syria carve-up
The Obama administration has reportedly proposed a new agreement to Russia's government for military cooperation in Syria, sharing target information and coordinating air-strikes. In exchange, Moscow would agree to pressure the Assad regime to stop bombing certain Syrian rebel groups. The US would not give Russia the exact locations of these groups, but specify geographic zones that would be safe from aerial assaults. (WP, June 30)
Of course Russia has been a senior partner in the Assad regime's aerial terror, and this deal is further evidence of a Washington tilt to Assad. The US and Russia face common enemies in ISIS and Nusra Front—significantly not in the Assad regime, which is actively backed by Moscow and passively by Washington. Part of the motivation is doubtless to de-escalate the risk of direct superpower confrontation in Syria. Almost certainly related is Turkish President Erdogan's apology for the downing of a Russian warplane last year. Another aim to preserve the Great Power convergence against ISIS—but clearly this is being done through a carve-up of Syria into influence zones. Russia will basically be accepting a protected zone for forces backed by the US and (more directly) Turkey, reciprocating the US policy of fighting the jihadists but not Assad.
This leaves ambiguous the situation of the Rojava Kurds, who both the US and Russia have sought to woo as proxies. Turkey of course has sought to sabotage the US alliance with the Kurds. Charges of "ethnic cleansing" by the Kurdish YPG militia against Arabs in their anti-ISIS campaign serve this divide-and-rule strategy.
As the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advance on Islamic State "capital" Raqqa, ISIS is clearly exploiting fears of reprisals. The group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which has heroically reported from the city even under ISIS rule, writes disconcertingly: "ISIS main goal of this battle was to deepen the state of hatred between Arabs and Kurds, so the group claimed that Kurds are fighting Islam and they are going to commit violations against the Arabs. But this claim was supported later by YPG actions after they controlled Arab towns [in] northern Raqqa, YPG displaced Arabs, Turkmen and even Kurds and they confiscated a lot of Arab lands."
Regime forces are also advancing on Raqqa. Who gets there first will determine whether it falls into the US zone or the Russian zone. The fall of ISIS-held Fallujah to US-backed Iraqi forces has been a human rights and humanitarian disaster. If the Kurdish-led forces can avoid this, it will be a testament to the Rojava political program, informed by ideas of popular democracy and feminism. It will certainly be a test for the survival of meaningful local autonomy in Syria, rather than Great Power influence zones.