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)
A sadly hilarious story in the Washington Post today headlines: "The British are frantically Googling what the EU is, hours after voting to leave it." A majority of Great Britain's voting public voted for the "Brexit" yesterday, apparently without even understanding exactly what it is they were voting to leave, and now may now be feeling some morning-after buyer's remorse. Prime Minister David Cameron, who cynically called the vote in a play to the populist right even as he urged rejecting the exit from the European Union, will now step down—and may go down in history as the man who oversaw the beginning of the dissolution of the United Kingdom, two centuries and change after its creation. Most obviously, Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU, and the Brexit is now reviving calls for its secession from the UK. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already announced that it is "democratically unacceptable" that Scotland will be taken out of the EU against its will, and that a second independence referendum is "highly likely." (The Independent)
The US responded this week to the Syrian Kurds' declaration of autonomy, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying: "We've...made it clear to these Kurdish forces [in Syria] that they should not seek to create autonomous, semi-autonomous zones." He added that Kurdish forces in Syria "should not seek to retain the territory that they liberate, rather that they should make sure it's returned to whatever civilian authorities there are and able to—so that all displaced people can return there." This is a barely veiled reference to accusations that Syrian Kurdish forces are engaging in "ethnic cleansing" against Arabs and Turkmen in areas liberated from ISIS. But not only are these charges dubious, but Toner's statement ignores that often the only "civilian authorities" are in fact those of the Kurdish autonomous administration. More ominously, he warned that the US is in close dialogue with Turkey on the question and understands Ankara's "concerns regarding Kurdish forces in northern Syria." (This as Turkey is wagng a brutal counterinsurgency against Kurdish rebels within its own territory, to Washington's silence.) Ironically, he added that the Kurdish militias in Syria "are effective fighting forces and that they are willing to take on and dislodge Daesh," using the popular pejorative for ISIS in the Middle East.
Fierce fighting between Kurdish-led YPG forces and Arab factions aligned with the Free Syrian Army is deepening a split within the Syrian resistance to both ISIS and Assad. The YPG suffered a very bad propaganda blow in clashes over the contested Azaz enclave this weekend, when its fighters paraded some 50 bodies of slain enemy forces on an open-top trailer-truck through the village of Ayn-Dakna. The bodies were taken to Afrin, seat of the local Kurdish autonomous canton, where this grisly triumphalist display waas repeated. The coverage on Turkey's official Anadolu Agency was gloating; for once they had facts to back up their disingenuous habit of refering to "YPG terrorists."
One of the greatest tragedies on the global stage now is that revolutions are going on in both Syria and Turkey—and they are being pitted against each other in the Great Game. First we look at Syria, where the partial "ceasefire" in place for over a month is finally breaking down. The critical event seems to have been the April 18 bombing of a marketplace in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Noaman by regime warplanes, killing dozens. The town is controlled by Nusra Front, which was not included in the "ceasefire," but the victims of the bombardment were overwhelmingly civilians. The town's residents had no love of Nusra, and civil resistance activists had repeatedly taken to the streets there over the past month to oppose the jihadist militia and the Bashar Assad regime alike. (NYT, April 19) In the aftermath of the market bombing, the Jaysh al-Nasr, on the of main FSA-aligned militias, announced the opening of a new "battle" against regime forces. (Reuters, April 18)
Syrian Kurds on March 17 formally declared a "Federation of Northern Syria," uniting their three autonomous cantons into one entity, in an announcement quickly denounced by the Assad regime, the opposition and regional powers alike. Democratic Union Party (PYD) official Idris Nassan said the federation brings together "areas of democratic self-administration" encompassing all the Rojava region's ethnic and religious groups. The decision was approved at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan (Jazira canton), attended by some 200 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Turkmen and Syriac communities. (Middle East Eye)
Vladimir Putin took the world by surprise with his March 14 announcement that he is ordering the Russian military to withdraw most of its forces from Syria—just as the new round of peace talks is opening in Geneva. Russia has deployed more than 50 jets and helicopters to its air base at Khmeimim (also rendered Hemeimeem) in coastal Latakia governorate, and they have since September flown near-daily combat sorties. Russia boasts that thanks to its air support, the Damascus regime has extended its control to 400 towns and villages over an area of 10,000 square kilometers. Moscow also emphasized that it will keep its base at Khmeimim, as well as another at the port of Tartus, just down the coast. (See map.) (AP, RT)
The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), comprised of Syrian opposition groups, stated March 11 that they will attend peace discussions with the Damascus government facilitated by the UN that will begin next week. The HNC seeks a transitional government with full executive powers, and no role for President Bashar al-Assad or his associates. These peace negotiations will likely discuss possible federal division of Syria. Last month the UN Security Council last month approved the Syria ceasefire plan, which has been successful so far. These peace talks will follow the first round of negotiations that failed in early February during a Russian-backed government offensive.