Turkey’s Kurdish policy is facing diplomatic isolation both vis-à-vis Moscow and Washington.
After a quick victory of the Iraqi army over the Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk last week, Baghdad reestablished control over the oil-rich region. Ankara has been training with the Iraqi army, mounting economic and diplomatic pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), whilst also providing logistical support.
The question is whether that victory will allow the Kurdish region to move swiftly towards secession.
Moscow drifts from Ankara
Turkey has achieved the rally Teheran’s diplomatic support, isolating the KRG regime, Moscow has been making clear that Russia recognizes Kurdish aspirations for statehood.
That commitment comes in no uncertain terms by Sergei Lavrov, in a statement to Rudaw, the Kurdish News Agency. And Russia’s Rosneft has now signed an agreement for a 60% share of the Kurdish oil pipeline leading to Turkey. In sum, the disruption of KRG oil exports raises bilateral issues with Russia, undercutting Turkish total economic control over the regime in Erbil.
That is against Turkey’s desire to dissolve Turkish autonomous rule even within a Confederal framework.
Meanwhile, in Syria, Turkey is fighting the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that is regarded as a branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Russia wants to bolster Damascus control over the whole country but does not oppose limited Kurdish autonomy. The PYD retains representation in Moscow.
Washington doesn’t quite converge
The US has armed YPG’s 50,000 strong militia. YPG now aspire to create an autonomous region, which would create a continuous zone under Kurdish control along the Turkish border.
The territories controlled by YPG bear banners of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned in Turkey. Turkey has been enraged by Washington’s support for the Kurdish forces, often presented as tactical rather than strategic. However, it is unlikely the YPG force will be returning its armor after the successful Raqqa campaign.
Ankara has never accepted this so-called tactical alliance against the Islamic State, accusing Washington of harboring terrorism, soaring relations with NATO. Ankara’s relations with its western allies are at an all-time low, with Germany withdrawing its troops from the Incirlik Air Base, while several European states are granting asylum to Turkish officers prosecuted by Ankara.
Although Washington is not likely to risk its relations with Ankara to support Kurdish autonomy, it is unlikely they would staunchly oppose a move towards a form of self-rule in Syria. When it comes to its Kurdish policy, Ankara seems to be drifting away from both Washington and Moscow.