Russia is exploiting Syria’s Kurds and U.S. frustrations to complicate the fight against ISIS

Huffington Post reports: As Syria peace talks begin in Geneva, America’s key partners on the ground feel neglected, excluded and increasingly receptive to a man who says the U.S has the war-torn country all wrong — Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s government this week used the process of deciding who would attend the negotiations to endear Russia to the Syrian Kurds, whose militia has chalked up high-profile victories against the self-described Islamic State group with U.S. air support.

Moscow repeatedly demanded that the talks should include the most powerful Kurdish political organization, the radically leftist PYD. Its co-president Salih Muslim said this week that the party — controversial among Western and Muslim-backed Syrian Arab nationalist groups — did not receive an invitation. The Middle East Eye reported Friday that he stopped by Geneva and then promptly left.

Conversely, Washington stayed relatively silent.

The Kurds now feel that though they have become close enough to the United States to host America’s Special Operations troops, receive U.S. weapons through a Pentagon-vetted program for an Arab-Kurdish rebel force and share Islamic State targets with American intelligence, the Obama administration abandoned them in the run-up to the high-profile talks, according to analysts close with Kurdish leaders.

“These talks started in a very troublesome manner with the Kurds not being there,” said Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based analyst who monitors the Syrian Kurds. “Kurds being the pioneers of the fight against ISIS, having lost more than 4,000 fighters, were sure they were going to be invited.”

Michael Werz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who just returned from a major Kurdish conference in Brussels, told The Huffington Post the current view among some in the PYD is, “we know that the Russians are going to betray us, but they’re the only ones actually lobbying for us to be part of the Geneva talks.”

“‘We are the only secular fighting force, we are the only movement giving freedom to women, and the United States doesn’t even stand up to the Turks when it comes to participating in the peace negotiations,” Werz added in his summing up of Kurdish sentiment. “‘Nobody is publicly supporting us, so what are we supposed to do?'”

The popularity of that thinking is a problem for Washington because it could bolster distrust among Syrian Kurds already nervous about their fledgling relationship with the U.S. [Continue reading…]

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