What is Russia’s end game in Afrin?

Turkey considers the PYD and YPG "terrorist groups" [Turkish presidency/Yasin Bulbul/Handout]
Turkey considers the PYD and YPG “terrorist groups” [Turkish presidency/Yasin Bulbul/Handout]

Growing US-Kurdish ties and a possible change in Turkey’s position on Assad may be behind Moscow’s tacit support.

Turkey launched its air and ground operation against Kurdish fighters in the Syrian enclave of Afrin on Saturday, with Moscow turning a blind eye on the military offensive. Russian forces were withdrawn from the area just before the operation began and Turkish jets were allowed to use the Afrin airspace, controlled by the Syrian government and Russia.

The development comes at a time when relations between Turkey and Russia have been gradually getting closer in the context of the Syria conflict, whereas tensions have been rising between Ankara and Washington, which backs the Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Washington decided to arm SDF fighters in May 2017, despite Turkey’s objections and a direct appeal from Erdogan at a White House meeting later in the same month. They also have been training thousands of SDF fighters in northeastern Syria.

The US arms shipments began even before the launch of months-long offensive to remove ISIL from the Syrian city of Raqqa. The SDF and YPG played a prominent role in the eventual defeat of the group later in 2017.

Tensions between the US and Turkey remain high, despite Trump saying last November that Washington would no longer supply weapons to the YPG. Professor Akgun told Al Jazeera that Moscow wanted to get Assad included in a resolution to the Syrian conflict, at least in the transitional period after the war and allowing the Afrin operation might influence Turkey to change its stance on the issue.

“Letting Turkey carry out the Afrin operation is a way to convince Ankara to be perhaps more flexible in certain issues regarding Syria in the course of Astana talks, such as Assad’s situation in a transitional government in Syria,” he said.

Fuad Shahbazov, an independent expert on Russia and Middle East affairs, said that Turkish side seemed to have made certain promises to Russia over Assad in order to get the green light for the offensive.

“I don’t think that Turkey will radically change its strict position over Assad remaining not in power,” he told Al Jazeera. “The Turkish side could have made promises such as refraining from sharp criticism of the Assad regime or unofficially launching dialogue with the Syrian president.”

This material was originally published by AlJazeera