Will al-Jarba’s visit to Moscow achieve any geopolitical gains?

The head of the Syria's Tomorrow Movement, Ahmed al-Jarba, visiting the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow - 25 September 2020 (TVC channel)

The head of the Syria's Tomorrow Movement, Ahmed al-Jarba, visiting the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow - 25 September 2020 (TVC channel)


Enab Baladi – Louay Rhebani

Russia continues its attempts to extend influence over the Eastern Euphrates regions politically and militarily, through repeated meetings in Moscow, with political fronts and parties close to the “Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” the influential party in the area.

The most recent of these meetings was on 25 September, when the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov received a delegation from the “Syrian Front for Peace and Freedom” headed by Ahmed al-Jarba, in the Russian capital, Moscow.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, in the meeting, Lavrov reviewed the situation in Syria with al-Jarba and confirmed “Russia’s firm commitment to supporting Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The ministry also stated that Lavrov demanded the “Syrian Front for Peace and Freedom” to contribute significantly and constructively to the progress of the political settlement in Syria based on the Security Council’s resolution No. 2254.

Ahmed al-Asi al-Jarba was born in Qamishli city in 1969. He is one of the tribal leaders of the “Shamar” clan in the Syrian al-Jazeera area.

Al-Jarba headed the “National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces” for two consecutive terms, the first was in July 2013 and the second in early 2014. He also participated in the international peace talks on the Syrian file in the Geneva conference I and II.

After leaving the “Syrian National Coalition,” al-Jarba established the “Tayyar al-Ghad al-Souri (Syria’s Tomorrow Movement) and signed an agreement with the Kurdish “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES)” in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to develop joint military strategies and operations.

Geopolitical penetration

The meeting between the “Syrian Front for Peace and Freedom” and Moscow stems from the former’s desire to gain the support of Russia, a party with significant influence in the Syrian file, and a true rival for Washington, D.C.

On the other hand, this closeness pleases Moscow, which wants to bring the SDF out of the US umbrella into its own, thus gaining influence in the Eastern Euphrates region, according to what the political analyst Hassan al-Nifi said to Enab Baladi.

Al-Nifi believes that this meeting has many objectives in the interest of the “Syrian Front for Peace and Freedom,” as the latter seeks political support from Moscow to become a political rival to the SDF, which has the ultimate US support.

Al-Nifi pointed out that the SDF and the “Syrian Front for Peace and Freedom” are in conflict over legitimacy in the Eastern Euphrates region.

Last July, four Syrian opposition entities announced their alliance within the “Syrian Front for Peace and Freedom,” as a political movement in the Eastern Euphrates region under the control of the SDF.

Those entities included the “Assyrian Democratic Organization,” the “Kurdish National Council,” “Syria’s Tomorrow Movement,” and the “Arab Council in al-Jazeera and the Euphrates.”

Al-Nifi expected that al-Jarba aims to gain Russian support to become an equivalent power to the SDF in the Eastern Euphrates region.

However, the “Russians are unable to make a change in the balance of power in the Eastern Euphrates region due to the US domination on the area,” al-Nifi added.

Al-Nifi continued saying, “the Syrian Front for Peace and Freedom is seeking Moscow’s support to be a true partner in the current negotiating track through the Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC).”

This political move is one of a series of moves and of “Kurdish-Russian rapprochement” that happened recently. The closeness was translated by the rapprochement of the “Syrian National Renewal Movement” headed by Obeida Nahas with the “Moscow Platform”  and the “People’s Will Party” headed by Qadri Jamil.

Last May, Nahas, and Jamil issued a joint political position, in which they demanded an immediate start to radical and inclusive change in Syria.

On 30 August, the “People’s Will Party” in Moscow announced an agreement with the “Syrian Democratic Council (SDC)” signed by Qadri Jamil and the co-chair of the executive board of the SDC, Ilham Ahmed. The agreement gives the two sides a Russian recognition to be part of the Syrian Constitutional Committee’s work.

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) is considered the SDF’s political arm, which was formed in October 2015, and is supported by the US.

Turkish affairs and international relations researcher, Taha Odeh Oglu, said to Enab Baladi that Moscow is searching for a bigger role in northern and eastern Syria by forging close relations with all Syria groups. This coincides with US domination, represented in its military and political presence embodied by the visit of the US Special Envoy for Syrian Affairs, James Jeffrey, to Syria.

On 22 September, Jeffrey met with the president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, which indicates a growing US activity and greater interest in the Eastern Euphrates region.

Jeffrey’s visit also tackled Turkey’s role in Syria’s Eastern Euphrates region, as “Anadolu Agency,” a state-run press agency in Turkey, quoted sources informed on Jeffrey’s visit that the latter said “Turkey will not launch new military operations against the “Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK),” after a meeting with Syrian Kurdish forces.

Nevertheless, Turkey made no official comment on this information until the preparation time of this report.

The Turkish army and the Syrian National Army (SNA), which is supported by Turkey, control the area from the town of Tell Abyad in al-Raqqa countryside to Ras al-Ain in rural al-Hasakah province after a military operation that Ankara called the “Peace Spring,” operation, which began on 9 October 2019 and ended on the 22nd of the same month after a Russian-Turkish agreement.

A firm Turkish position

According to Odeh Oglu, developments in Russia’s political circles are besetting Ankara. He added that Turkey sees the SDF as a terrorist organization that creates instability in Syria’s eastern region.

“There is pressure on Ankara to accept the SDF as a partner on the dialog table,” said Odeh Oglu.

By referring to Turkey’s “Peace Spring” military operation north-eastern Syria, Odeh Oglu said, “Turkey’s position remains unwavering by refusing to have the SDF at the dialogue table.”

Al-Nifi pointed out that al-Jarba has an additional objective: to get a foothold in the negotiating track.

Al-Nifi confirmed that the negotiating track is subject to an international agreement, especially between Turkey and Russia, on the one hand, and Russia and the Syrian regime on the other.

In the context of the aforementioned Russian-Turkish understandings, al-Nifi asserts that Turkey’s position regarding the connection of several parties to the SDF is very sensitive, given that Turkey “does not want any Syrian entity used by Russia as a pressure card.”

This leads to the belief that “the Turkish position will not change,” according to al-Nifi.

On 31 August, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called on Russia to avoid any moves that would serve the PKK agendas and the “Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG),” which Turkey considers an extension of the PKK.

The ministry expressed its concern over Moscow’s invitation to the “Syrian Front for Peace and Freedom” delegation to Russia and its reception by high-ranking Russian officials.

The ministry’s statement also stressed that the (YPG/PKK) party targets the unity of Syrian lands and practices persecution on the citizens in the areas it controls by adopting terrorist and separatist agendas.

In a statement to the “Anadolu Agency,” the head of the “National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces,” Nasr al-Hariri said that “we reject any political agreement with any terrorist organization.”

Al-Hariri also said, “No understandings can be made unless after ending the terrorist role of these separatist militias, and stopping their dependence on the PKK terrorist organization.”

He added, “The PKK’s presence must end in Syria, along with dismantling its terrorist agencies, and subjecting it to the rule of law, through legitimate institutions representing the Syrian people, their rights, and aspirations.”

Al-Hariri considered that “Any party who reaches out to these militias and their leadership, puts itself on their side, thus undermining international efforts to preserve Syria’s unity, and opening the door to a distorted fait accompli.”

He added, “Such an act will have no place in the framework of a political solution in Syria.”

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