The Democratic Union Party of Syrian Kurds has already reached out to Russia and discussed a desire for greater self-rule in Syria. Russia appears to have been open to this. While each side is likely playing their own game — the Kurds, perhaps, trying to pressure the U.S. for more arms by cozying up to a geopolitical rival — the prospects for further cooperation seems quite propitious after the bomber incident in Turkey. It is not difficult to envision the Syrian Kurds striking a deal with Russia to gain more autonomy, up to and including a de facto state. This is something the West can’t do given ties to Turkey and fears of a spillover effect into Turkey itself. Should such an agreement happen, Russia could follow this up with feelers to elements of the PKK in Turkey itself. Over time, this could represent the beginning of a literal carving up of chunks of southern Turkey.

This would not happen immediately, but Putin can afford to be patient. A masterstroke like this, if left unchallenged by the West, would represent a blow to NATO just as potentially deadly to the future of the alliance as the much more presently feared “little green men” in the Baltics. Further, given Turkey’s strained relations with the West, including Erdoğan’s own authoritarianism and role in indirectly facilitating the rise of ISIS, it is unclear exactly how the West would respond.