On January 20, Turkey launched an air and ground offensive, which it called “Olive Branch”, against the Kurdish-controlled enclave of in northern Syria.

As the offensive progressed rapidly, it became obvious that such an ambitious operation could not have been possible without ’s explicit approval.

First of all, the operation required the to enter ’s airspace – something Ankara could not have done without consulting Russia. Furthermore, before rechannelling Turkish-backed (FSA) forces to , Ankara needed assurances from that Bashar al-Assad would not take advantage of the situation and attempt to seize Turkish-controlled positions in the province of Idlib.

The n Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters in , also knew that it would be impossible for Turkey to start the operation “Olive Branch” without coordinating with . As a result, SDF representatives hastily expressed their disappointment with ’s stance on the issue.

General Sipan Hemo, a commander for the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), the leading Kurdish force within the SDF, said has “betrayed the Kurds”. He added that “there will come a day when will apologise to the Kurds for this lack of principles.”

With the start of the operation, clearly became a Turkish accomplice in the eyes of the Kurds. It is difficult not to agree with the Kurdish assessment, but a close examination of last year’s developments shows that the cooperation between and Ankara regarding the future of , at the expense of the Kurds, started long before Turkey launched its operation against the enclave.

The seeds of the operation “Olive Branch” were planted last summer, during talks between n Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Turkish Chief-of-Staff in . As result of these talks, gave consent to the partial use of ’s airspace by the s, paving the way for Turkey’s offensive on .

Ankara began building up its military presence near the Kurdish enclave over a month ago, after reaching an agreement with on the delineation of the de-escalation zone in Idlib.

’s approval of the operation Olive Branch became even more clear on the day the hostilities began, when the n Ministry of Defence announced the withdrawal of n troops from .

Also, in the brief statement it issued about the operation on January 20, the n Ministry of Foreign Affairs confined itself only to a duty of “concern” that was interpreted as a “green light” to Turkey’s actions. 

’s end game

Despite the indignation of the n Kurds, cooperation with the Turks on the issue of is much more beneficial for than confrontation.

’s relationship with the Kurds has never been based on long-term, strategic cooperation. On the contrary, throughout its history, has used “the Kurdish card” only when it needed to reach a compromise with the countries in the Middle East, especially with Turkey.

And in the case of , does not owe the YPG much. Throughout the n crisis, the group allied itself with the US and, de facto speaking, placed itself on the opposite side of the conflict. The Kurds rejected ’s offer to transfer the territory under their control in to the n regime, in exchange for security guarantees. Washington was unable to help its YPG allies, and this gave an additional opportunity to once again demonstrate the illusory nature of US security guarantees.

In addition, cooperation with Ankara is of primary importance for at the moment. Turkey is one of the co-organisers of the Congress of n People, which is being held on January 29-30 in Sochi.

The forum has domestic political significance for the Kremlin, since it is not only a personal initiative of Vladimir Putin, but also coincides with the beginning of his election campaign. The n president wants to approach the presidential elections in March 2018 as a peacemaker and a victor. He wants to offer his electorate a victorious conclusion of the military conflict in , and then position his government as the key player which would bring peace to the war-torn country.

Also, by cooperating with Ankara on , has created an opportunity that would allow it to solve the situation in Idlib without military escalation. knew that a military confrontation in Idlib would have been costly for Damascus and its allies, as it would have led to a new humanitarian catastrophe similar to the one that occurred a year ago in Aleppo. Not to mention that such a conflict would have exhausted the already weak n army, forcing to return to the n war front.

’s tacit approval of the operation Olive Branch, on the contrary, led to reciprocal concessions from Ankara in Idlib. The same day Turkey launched its operation, the n regime announced that it had seized the opposition-controlled Abu Duhur airport in Idlib without any hindrance.

Finally, Turkey has another, important bargaining chip against : the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. has pinned high hopes on the project and it does not want anything to hinder its construction.

’s consent to a Turkish operation in coincided with a statement from Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller, confirming a long-awaited agreement on the construction of a second gas line passing through the territorial waters of Turkey.

This makes it unlikely for Ankara to suspend the project in the near future, as it did in 2015. If the construction continues without hindrance, the Turkish Stream can be completed in 2019 as planned.

Originally published in: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/russia-helping-turkey-afrin-180125122718953.html