Many people thought the U.S. and Russia crafted a secret deal in the beginning of the Syrian war. There were indications that the two countries agreed to keep Bashar Assad in power for some more time, while the U.S. would rely on the support of Syrian Kurds and Russia would preserve its military facilities in the country. The deal included Iraq, as well. The governments in Damascus and Bagdad would remain closer to Russia, while the Kurdish regions in both Syria and Iraq would work with Washington. Radical religious groups were designated as the main enemy and the fight would continue against them, justifying the presence of U.S. and Russian troops.
The Russian and U.S. military presence would also limit Iran and Turkey's room to maneuver in the region. Even if such a deal did exist, the game moved forward in the most unexpected ways. The U.S.-sponsored armed groups believed that Washington had definitely sided with them over Turkey. They assumed it was the golden opportunity to drive Turkey out of the region once and for all. Nevertheless, their antagonistic adventure has motivated Ankara to intervene militarily in Syria. That fired up a crisis between Turkey and the U.S. to the benefit of Russia. The U.S. noticed that Russia was exploiting the situation and the deal between these two major powers started to crumble.
The only matter about which Moscow and Washington agree right now is to allow Assad to remain in power. Although they do have some tactical agreements to not clash on the ground, there are no common or agreed to strategies between the two major powers, and the old deals are not working either.In addition, U.S. President Donald Trump seems to be losing his capacity to make decisions by the day. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and Trump's administration is in progress and the number of Americans who believe Russian President Vladimir Putin's interference in the presidential election had been essential to getting Trump elected is growing. The point is that in order to demonstrate there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia, Trump is forced to take a very tough stance against Putin. Every deal he may conclude with Russia risks being interpreted as proof of guilt.
Putin is certainly aware of this, so he decided to remind the U.S. that Russia is still a nuclear power by displaying his weapons. Maybe he is trying to warn the investigations not to harm his deals with Trump, otherwise the U.S. will have to worry about Russia's new weapons.
European countries are watching U.S.-Russian relations very quietly, but attentively, because they are the first ones to fear a powerful Russia. Besides, the U.S. may need the helping hand of a number of European countries in order to counterbalance Russia. Moscow, however, needs to harm the U.S.-European relationship as much as it can. By allowing the European Union to get involved in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Moscow is perhaps trying to set the EU against the U.S.Even though they manage to build an equation of controlled rivalry, both Russia and the U.S. will have to make some concessions. The U.S. will probably have to accept leaving a number of regions to Russia's zone of influence in the Balkans and the Middle East. Maybe Turkey was part of that deal, and maybe that why the U.S. has kept pushing Turkey toward Russia.
There is a big problem with this picture, though. Europeans do not have a problem about getting closer to the U.S. As for Middle Eastern countries, they have no power to resist when major powers impose an alliance on them. Things are a little bit different for Turkey, because Ankara's current cooperation with Moscow is essentially tactical. In other words, Turkey's determination to remain in the West is intact. It does not like being pushed toward Russia, and neither does it wants to be saved from anybody. That is why it is acting to make the U.S. and Russia adjust their approach accordingly.
Operation Olive Branch is not being conducted only to secure Turkey's borders, but to urge the two great powers to make up their minds about Turkey.
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