Turkey’s downing of the Russian fighter jet led Moscow to use all means to cause a headache for Ankara. This was the second time a Russian warplane was downed after the Korean War and the Russian President Vladimir Putin was aware that history will record his era as a period when Turkish army downed a Russian jet.
Using the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the Kurdish Marxist militant group Peoples Protection Units (YPG), was something Moscow would not hesitate to use to cross Turkey’s "redline" of not letting YPG to take control of the region between Azaz and Jarablus.
Only three weeks after the jet incident, Russian military delivered 5 tons of ammunition and weapons to YPG in Sheikh Maqsoud to curb opposition groups around Aleppo. Simultaneously, Syrian Turkmen faced heavy Russian bombardment in Latakia, making the situation even worse for Turkey. In the later weeks, Tal Rifat was captured by the SDF, making northern Syria more problematic than ever for Ankara.
Russia did not only provide military assistance and aid to the YPG; it also let the organization open an office in Moscow. With such close relations with the Syrian wing of the PKK – a separatist organization that has recently accelerated its terrorist activities – Russia failed to grasp what Turkey’s abilities in the region were.
As Turkey is no longer able to fly its jets in Syria due to Russian threat, Ankara made sure its Turkmen brethren do not suffer from shortage of weaponry while fighting the regime and its backers in various parts of northern Syria. Commanders in the field were reported many times saying that without Turkey’s assistance they could not defend their motherland against the aggressors.
Only two days after Tall Rifat fall under SDF control, 2,000 opposition fighters crossed into northern Syria from Turkey. At the same time Turkish military started shelling YPG positions near Tall Rifat and Menagh airport. Other than publicized reports on such developments, we hear from sources that Ankara takes the issue in a tougher manner to not let Russia be the game-changer at its southern border.
As SDF was established as a cover by the YPG to grab international attention and support, their collaborators will abandon them when their purpose of use is completed. Flirting with both the United States and Russia will not carry on forever for this militant group. Airdropping weapons or striking opposition targets showed that short gains do not make major changes.
Turkey being unable to fly jets is surely a handicap, but at the same time Turkey still has the capabilities of having influence over majority of opposition groups that it has good relations with. At this moment, the question is: Is it the SDF/YPG will start a Jarablus offensive or the Turkey supported opposition groups. The answer of this question will determine the level of Russia-Turkey tension in northern Syria.
If Moscow surprisingly wins its proxy war with YPG crossing the Euphrates, this would mean that the militant group will find the golden opportunity to connect all the cantons in northern Syria and be an alternative base and recruit center for the PKK.
With Geneva talks see an expected failure due to continuing regime atrocities, the fight could increase. Also, Turkey being hit by ISIS rockets daily, could be the sparkle of a move that will push Turkish army to enter into northern Syria. This time it would be the Russians and their collaborators to think.