When Turkey downed a Russian jet last November, it did so in the hopes of containing Russian efforts in Syria. Instead, it may have triggered a process that is putting Vladimir Putin in the driver’s seat in redrawing the borders of the Middle East, including Turkey’s.
After the incident, Putin vowed that Turkey’s leaders would come to rue their action and promised to retaliate with more than boycotts of Turkish tomatoes and other economic measures. “We know what we need to do,” Putin intoned ominously.
Putin has been delivering on his word. As part of his revenge, Putin has been expanding ties to Kurdish groups in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. In December of last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov personally and publicly welcomed to Moscow Turkey’s leading Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). During his visit, Demirtas proceeded to open a representative office for his party in Russia’s capital. In February, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) opened its first foreign office in Moscow, a major step forward in the group’s campaign for international legitimacy. Russia has been a consistent advocate on behalf of the Kurds at the Geneva peace talks.