’s operation in has complicated Washington’s relations with two of its allies in – the and – leaving more room to act as arbiter between and n Kurdish groups, according to Jonas Parello-Plesner of the Hudson Institute.

’s latest offensive on a Kurdish enclave in northern has pitted two U.S. allies against each other and raised the risk of a confrontation between and Washington – a move that “is great for ,” Jonas Parello-Plesner, senior policy fellow at the , told  Deeply.

sees “the operation in as a chance to deepen the wedge between the U.S. and ,” he said.

launched an operation targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in last week. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since threatened to expand the campaign further east toward the Kurdish-held town of , where U.S. troops are operating alongside the Washington-backed  (SDF).

’s foreign minister on Saturday called on the U.S. to pull out its troops ahead of a potential attack. However, Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of the United States Central Command, said an exit from is not something Washington is considering.

Against the backdrop of heightened tensions, Deeply spoke with Parello-Plesner about the implications of ’s operation in on Washington, Moscow and, ultimately, .

Deeply: What’s at stake for both Moscow and Washington in terms of ’s operation in northern ?

Jonas Parello-Plesner: Washington has just rolled out its new strategy, which maintains U.S. presence in . Even though it’s a limited force of only 2,000, it’s still a military presence that’s going to try to prevent an ISIS resurgence and undertake stabilization efforts in areas liberated from the group. Stabilization efforts are being carried out to a large extent in collaboration with the SDF, which is under strong influence by n . Therefore, for the U.S., it’s very inconvenient that you suddenly have with their proxies, the [FSA, attacking the n in .

When it comes to , I think they see the operation in as an opportunistic chance to deepen the wedge between the U.S. and . Turkish troops and proxies attacking n , who are the primary partners of the U.S. in , is great for . It means that the two major allies are suddenly at loggerheads in , which would give Moscow more leverage as a potential power broker.

Deeply: Washington is in a bit of a quagmire: Fully supporting ’s operation will threaten its alliance with the , but condemning it risks endangering its ties with a NATO ally. What options does the U.S. currently have, and can it maintain this delicate balance?

Jonas: I think the U.S. will strike a compromise. They will allow to continue its attacks on , since it is not a zone of U.S. operations. This is why the statements from the White House have only called for restraint. In this sense, you can say the U.S. is giving a free run in , even though the SDF is publicly asking the U.S. to provide more support to the in the area. On the other hand, the U.S. is also making it clear that it will only accept a limited operation. Any move beyond , and especially on the town of , where you have U.S. troops, seems to be a red line. I think this is the balance they are going to try and strike.

Deeply: If attacks , would Washington’s hands be tied or is there room to maneuver?

Jonas: For that would be a very, very high-risk gamble. You must be a very risky Turkish commander to recommend a strategy that involves shelling an area where there are American troops and risk killing U.S.soldiers, especially since there is such a high risk this could backfire completely. I would still think that will not start to shell an area where the U.S. is present on the ground because the U.S. and are NATO allies and because the U.S. remains the world’s only superpower.

Deeply: The U.S. called on to exercise restraint and limit its operations in northern , but fell short of condemning the offensive. How did this response impact the relationship between Washington and its Kurdish partners, who may already have been doubting the extent of U.S. support?

Jonas: The American response creates tension. You can see that in a recent SDF statement in which the called on the U.S. to show more support. This is why the ns like this scenario because it exposes that the Americans are not going to do that much for the .

Unfortunately, the n don’t have a lot of good options. The Americans haven’t come out as strongly to support them as they would hope, the Turks are attacking them together with the FSA, the ns have green-lighted the Turkish operation, so they also are angry with . Basically, it’s a situation where the are seeing that they have no friends but the mountains, a little bit like what played out in Iraq for the Iraqi around their independence referendum, where they also expected much more support from the international community, including the U.S., but didn’t get it.

Deeply: What does this say about Washington’s capacity as a mediator between the and the Turks?

Jonas: If you take actions as metrics, then, of course, the U.S. does not have a great track record, because is happening now. They have not been able to deter the Turks from this. It’s an unwanted escalation.

On the other hand, I know from my own contacts with the administration that Washington has been trying to do a lot of work to accommodate the Turks. They are being very clear about the collaboration they have with the SDF, about its limits and also about cooperating with over the PKK[Kurdistan Workers’ Party] threat. The Americans, I would say, have gone to great length to try to accommodate . Also, with the n , they have been honest. They never promised them that their partnership was anything more than about fighting ISIS. They have never made any promises that they would ensure political participation of the n or a long-term U.S. partnership.

Deeply: In a recent op-ed, you claimed that for several years now Moscow has been reaching out to and the YPG simultaneously, hoping to replace the U.S. as the primary arbiter between the two parties. How is trying to achieve this status and what does it hope to achieve?

Jonas: I think wants to project itself as a great power with influence both in the Middle East and globally. And wants to come out of the n conflict as a winner. That’s why, I think, they have been cultivating the n and trying to act as an arbiter on their behalf. This is why they invited them to participate in the congress in Sochi, when even the U.S. has not worked to include the in the Geneva format. Also, if you looked at ’s draft for the new n constitution, a large-scale autonomy for the was included.

I think has been doing that because they’re pretty used to cultivating frozen conflicts in Europe, including places like Donbass in Ukraine, Transnistria in Moldova, in Georgia as well. If you look at these frozen conflicts, in Donbass and so on, the ns thrive on instability as long as they have influence over it. They can dial up and dial down tensions as they want to get what they want.

Deeply: After ’s attack on , the YPG accused of selling them out. Do you think can still reach this arbiter status after its perceived complicity in the  offensive?

Jonas: It makes it harder. I saw reports that the n now have no interest in participating in the n national dialogue in Sochi with the ns, which potentially spoils things for Moscow.

On the other hand, it could also be a short-term rift. The n do not have that many options, so they know that if they want a deal with the n regime over their future in , they would need to go through the ns. So let’s see. We have to wait until the fighting stops and the smoke settles to see how precisely some of these new calculations are made. But definitely they are angry right now at the ns, and they’re expressing that publicly. That could spoil n influence. But the ns are still the ones with the influence over the regime.

Deeply: Eldar Khalil, who is the co-president of the governing body of Rojava, recently said that had asked the n to hand over to the n regime to be safe and far from Turkish attacks. What does this tell us about ’s ability to act as a mediator?

Jonas: It, of course, shows a relatively large capacity, at least, to sort of play around with things on the ground.

Deeply: Do you think might have a better ability than Washington to mediate between and the ?

Jonas: I think so. has less constraints and less concerns, and that makes it easier for Moscow to operate, whereas the U.S. has a lot of different constraints in its policy. Washington doesn’t want mass-scale boots on the ground. Its military mission is primarily to go after ISIS, not to go after Assad or Iran or any other broader objective. In that sense, the U.S. is much more constrained. And it has, of course, a relationship with that it wants to stabilize. With all of this in mind, the U.S. is just trying to avoid too many bumps on the road. Meanwhile, the ns can create bumps in the road, and it doesn’t matter that much for them.

So, yes, to answer your question more shortly.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Originally published in https://www.newsdeeply.com/syria/community/2018/01/30/how-russia-benefits-from-turkeys-afrin-operation