Moscow claims Turkey is planning to INVADE Syria after discovering ‘hidden preparations of armed forces’
- Russian military claims it has ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect an invasion
- Images of Turkish-Syrian border show buildup of transport infrastructure
- Official says it could be used for moving of troops, ammo and weapons
- Russia-Turkey ties strained after Russian warplane downed in November
- See more news from Turkey as Russia claims they plan to invade Syria
Images of a checkpoint on the border between the Turkish town of Reyhanli and the town of Sarmada in Syria taken in late October and late January show a buildup of transportation infrastructure.
The Russian military claims the infrastructure could be used for moving in troops, ammunition and weapons, spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said in an English-language written statement.
He said these were among growing signs of ‘hidden preparation’ of the Turkish armed forces for active actions on the territory of Syria.
Turkish soldiers on the Syrian border watch on as an explosion rocks the Syrian town of Kobani in 2014
‘Maybe, in peacetime, these facts would indicate the expectation of trade turnover growth between the neighboring countries,’ Konashenkov said.
‘However, during wartime, in such a way the transport infrastructure is preparing on the eve of military intervention.’
There was no immediate comment from Turkey.
Konashenkov’s accusations came a day after Russia accused Turkey of violating an international treaty by barring a previously arranged surveillance flight over Turkish territory adjacent to Syria and also over air bases used by NATO warplanes.
The Treaty on Open Skies allows unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of its three dozen participants, which include the U.S., Russia and Turkey.
The Russian military regards this ‘as a dangerous precedent and an attempt to hide the illegal military activity near the Syrian border,’ the spokesman said.
He said Russia has extensive intelligence sources in the Middle East, so if Turkey thinks that the prohibition of the observer flight will allow it to hide something, ‘it is unprofessional.’
Russia-Turkey ties have remained tense after a Turkish fighter jet downed a Russian warplane at the border with Syria in November.
NATO-Russia Tensions Rise After Turkey Downs Jet
MOSCOW — Two big powers supporting different factions in the Syrian civil war clashed with each other on Tuesday when Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane that Turkey said had strayed into its airspace.
The tensions immediately took on Cold War overtones when Russia rejected Turkey’s claim and Ankara responded by asking for an emergency NATO meeting, eliciting more Russian anger and ridicule. After the meeting, the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, called for “calm and de-escalation” and said the allies “stand in solidarity with Turkey.”
It was thought to be the first time a NATO country has shot down a Russian plane in half a century.
And while few expect a military escalation, with neither Russia nor NATO wanting to go to war, the incident highlighted the dangers of Russian and NATO combat aircraft operating in the same theater and has soured chances for a diplomatic breakthrough over Syria.
As President François Hollande of France met with President Obama in Washington to urge a closer and more aggressive alliance with Russia against the Islamic State, Turkey’s decision to fire on a Russian warplane attacking targets in Syria has raised tensions between Moscow and NATO and undercut efforts to persuade Russia to drop its support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Sorting Out What Russia and Turkey Say Happened in the Sky
Comparing the conflicting versions of the events.
Turkey wants Mr. Assad gone, and has allowed its border with Syria to be an easy crossing point for Syrian rebels, including those the West regards as terrorists or radical Islamists; Russia wants to prop up Mr. Assad and his government.
While Moscow says it is attacking the Islamic State, for the most part Russian planes and troops have been attacking the Syrian rebels, some of whom are supported by the United States and the West, who most threaten Mr. Assad’s rule.
Mr. Obama said again Tuesday that Russian air attacks on moderate opponents of Mr. Assad had only helped him and that they should be directed at the Islamic State.
Mr. Hollande and Mr. Obama clearly hoped that the bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, claimed by the Islamic State, would cause Moscow to make defeating the jihadists more of a priority than propping up Mr. Assad.
But Tuesday’s events will make that a tougher sell, for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia wants to be seen as an equal player in the conflict, not beholden to Western policies.
Turkey, especially under the increasingly authoritarian rule of its nationalist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been fierce in defending its airspace, shooting down Syrian jets that have strayed in the past.
Turkey insisted that it issued 10 warnings over a five-minute period to the Russian pilot of the Sukhoi Su-24 to pull away.
But Mr. Putin, clearly angry, responded that the Russian jet had never violated Turkish airspace and was shot down over Syria.
Speaking in Sochi, he called the downing of the plane a “stab in the back delivered by the accomplices of terrorists,” warning that it would have “serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations.”
Mr. Putin said that instead of “immediately making the necessary contact with us, the Turkish side turned to their partners in NATO for talks on this incident. It’s as if we shot down the Turkish plane and not they, ours. Do they want to put NATO at the service of the Islamic State?”
A United States military spokesman, Col. Steven Warren, confirmed on Tuesday that Turkish pilots had warned the Russian pilot 10 times, but that the Russian jet ignored the warnings.
Colonel Warren, speaking from Baghdad to reporters in Washington, also said American officials were analyzing radar track data to determine the precise location of the jet when it was shot down.
At the emergency NATO meeting, Turkish officials played recordings of the warnings Turkish F-16 pilots had issued to the Russian aircraft. The Russian pilots did not reply.
The Turkish account of the episode was described by several diplomats, who asked not to be identified because they were discussing a closed-door session at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
After Turkish representatives presented their side of the encounter at the meeting, they received expressions of support for their country’s territorial integrity, according to the diplomats’ account.
The Russian Su-24 that was struck was over the Hatay region of Turkey for about 17 seconds, according to one diplomat who attended the NATO meeting. But the plane re-entered Syrian airspace after being hit and therefore crashed in Syria, the diplomat said.
Tensions between Russia and Turkey had increased lately over Russian bombing of Turkmen tribesmen in northern Syria, whom Turkey regards as under its protection and who are fighting to oust Mr. Assad. Just this week, Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador in Ankara to demand that Moscow stop targeting Turkmen tribesmen in Syria.
“It was stressed that the Russian side’s actions were not a fight against terror, but they bombed civilian Turkmen villages, and this could lead to serious consequences,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
And so it has. The diplomatic spat may have led directly to Moscow continuing to target the Turkmens on Tuesday, and Turkey’s aggressive response.
What may make matters worse is that those same tribesmen said they shot both Russian pilots as they floated to earth in their parachutes, having apparently ejected safely after the plane was hit by air-to-air missiles.
The Russian minister of defense said that the navigator of the warplane is alive and has been rescued by Syrian and Russian special forces, but that the pilot was killed by ground fire.
The tribesmen also reportedly destroyed a Russian helicopter with a TOW antitank missile as it tried to rescue the airmen.
The Ministry of Defense said late Tuesday that a marine deployed on the search-and-rescue helicopter died but that the rest of the crew had escaped.
NATO countries have been concerned about Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies for some time, and NATO officials acknowledge that Turkey’s agenda in Syria does not always match that of Washington, Britain or France — let alone Russia.
And while he has recently allowed American planes to use Incirlik air base for sorties into Syria, Mr.
Erdogan’s own troops have largely turned their fire on the Syrian Kurds, whom Washington regards as its best local ally so far against the Islamic State.
In a speech on Tuesday, Mr. Erdogan said there would have been more incidents like Tuesday’s if Turkey had not exercised such restraint.
“The reason why worse incidents have not taken place in the past regarding Syria is the coolheadedness of Turkey,” he said in speech in Ankara. “Nobody should doubt that we made our best efforts to avoid this latest incident. But everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend its borders.”
While Mr. Hollande is pressing Mr. Obama for tougher action against the Islamic State and plans to travel to Moscow on Thursday to meet Mr. Putin, Washington-Moscow tensions, high over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, were highlighted again on Tuesday when Mr. Obama complained that Russian airstrikes against moderate opposition groups in Syria were bolstering the Assad government instead of trying to destroy the Islamic State.
But the United States and Russia have different interests in Syria, and Mr. Putin has been clear about the need to preserve the existing Syrian government, if not Mr. Assad himself as leader. Mr. Obama, like Mr. Hollande, is committed to the ouster of Mr. Assad and believes that the Syrian strongman is complicit with the Islamic State — from which his government buys considerable amounts of oil — as a means of dividing his own opposition.
In a news conference in Washington with Mr. Hollande, Mr. Obama said, “I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are operating very close to the Turkish border and they are going after moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries.”
Turkey has the right to defend its territory, Mr. Obama said, but he urged both sides to talk to make sure they figure out what happened and “discourage any kind of escalation.”
Russia’s retaliation so far has been largely symbolic. Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov canceled a Wednesday visit to Turkey, and a large Russian tour operator, Natalie Tours, announced it was suspending sales to Turkey. Russians accounted for 12 percent of all tourists to Turkey last year.
The two countries are also significant trade partners. But “Russia-Turkey relations will drop below zero,” Ivan Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Trends Studies, said on the state-run Rossiya 24 cable news channel.
Washington is not interested in getting deeper into Syria with ground troops or having a conflict with Russia.
So cautious are the NATO countries about Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which calls for mutual self-defense, that when Mr. Hollande declared “war” on the Islamic State after the Paris attacks, he invoked the European Union’s toothless Lisbon Treaty and sidestepped NATO. Mr. Hollande was also, French officials have said, eager not to offend Mr. Putin by making Syria a NATO issue.
An earlier version of this article misstated the timing of the downing of an unmanned aerial device. It was last month, not last week.
November 16, 2015
For EU officials preparing an emergency meeting of interior ministers on Friday to respond to the terrorist attacks in Paris, one thing stood out as unexpected in President François Hollande’s address to national legislators: his invocation of Article 42.7 of the EU treaty.
The article, which officials believe has never been used before, says that all EU countries have “an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power” to any member that is the “victim of armed aggression”.
All the other measures mentioned by Mr Hollande — including a crackdown on illegal gun-running and new measures to get data on airline passengers arriving in the EU — have been frequently demanded by Paris in the past.
EU officials believe the article’s invocation will have little substantive impact.
Unlike the collective defence clause in the north Atlantic Treaty, which holds that an attack on one Nato ally is an attack on all and requires concrete military action by allies, the EU measure taps into no common defence infrastructure.
Some EU politicians were left questioning why Paris had not chosen to invoke Article 5 of the Nato treaty, the collective defence clause that was used for the first time after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.
European Nato allies ended up flying air defence missions over New York and Washington following that decision.
A state of emergency has been declared in France after a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks in the capital. The government has responded with a series of police raids and stepped up air strikes against Isis in Syria
EU officials have in fact been laying the groundwork for another treaty measure: Article 222, the so-called “solidarity clause” which specifically refers to countries that are subject to a terrorist attack and requires EU members to “mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including military resources.”
But the measure, which was considered by Slovenia last month when it became overwhelmed by refugees because it also covers “man-made disasters”, is widely viewed as something invoked when a country cannot deal with a crisis on its own — a scenario Paris is unlikely to claim.
According to EU officials, Article 42.7 was included in the EU treaty at the insistence of Greece, which wanted to have some kind of collective defence protection outside of Nato because its biggest military adversary — Turkey — is also covered by the Nato treaty. Its inclusion in the EU treaty was seen as a major victory for Greek diplomacy at the time.
Urges US to ‘Prevent’ Russia From Backing Kurdish YPG
by Jason Ditz, January 22, 2016
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today laid out his agenda for Saturday talks with Vice President Joe Biden, saying a Russian military build-up in northern Syria, which reported involves “up to 200” Russian troops, is threatening to Turkey and “won’t be tolerated.”
Erdogan expressed particular concern about reports of a team of Russian military engineers arriving in Qamishli, in Hasakeh Province, to investigate the possibility of expanding the runway and capacity of the airport to serve as a Russian air base in northeastern Syria.
The US has recently taken over a base in the same area of Hasakeh from the Kurdish YPG, and Russia seems keen to get a base there as well, as they’ve similarly backed the YPG against ISIS. Erdogan, however, insisted that “There is no difference between PYD, YPG, PKK, or ISIS.”
If the meeting ends up focusing on Russia, the likelihood is that the US will back more NATO deployments into southern Turkey, and probably push for more troops along Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe too just so the Baltic states don’t feel left out. In practice, Turkey’s government may insist it won’t “tolerate” Russia having a base in Kurdish northeast Syria, but can’t actually do anything about it.
Why Did France Pass on NATO?
In his address to a special joint session of the French parliament yesterday, President François Hollande took the unprecedented step of invoking Article 42.7 of the EU treaty.
The article states that all EU member countries have “an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter” to any fellow member state that is the “victim of armed aggression.”
The little-known clause was apparently written into the treaty at the behest of Greece, which wanted additional safety guarantees in case it went to war with fellow NATO-member Turkey. Experts claim it has not been invoked since the treaty went into force.
So why is France invoking Article 42.7 rather than reaching for NATO’s own Article 5? The WSJ has a partial explanation:
French officials have said they don’t want to invoke the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s mutual-defense clause, arguing the current U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State is more nimble. There are also concerns that invoking the NATO treaty, which was only done once, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the U.S., could serve as a propaganda boost for Islamic State.
But there might be more to it than that. After all, Paris has wanted to build up a European defense identity as an alternative to NATO since Charles de Gaulle toyed with pulling France out of the alliance in the 1960s.
On one level, the move is purely symbolic. The French know their neighbors well.
They don’t really expect EU member countries to contribute large numbers of troops to any joint military endeavor. Luxembourg’s contribution to the war will be minimal, and the French almost certainly don’t think that Germany will help that much either. And anyway, France is only considering limited military action.
It isn’t looking to occupy Syria, and plans to drop just a few bombs here and there. It doesn’t really need massive EU commitments to reach that goal.But there are some tangible wins to this move as well. For one, the French get to watch the Germans squirm a little—a beloved sport in Paris.
But more consequentially, it allowed Hollande’s ministers to declare that France would blow past the 3 percent budget cap the EU has imposed on it. This is very shrewd—it will be very hard for the EU to disentangle domestic from military spending, allowing the French to pump up their domestic economy a fair bit in a time of crisis.
Finally, by putting some distance between itself and America, the move could build up France’s credibility a bit among the disillusioned Sunnis, while also holding the door open to deeper cooperation with Russia in Syria, should the opportunity present itself.All in all, a very canny bit of maneuvering. Chapeau, M. Hollande.
The warning signs were there as far back as June 2012
Turkey’s new playing card
June 30, 2012
The relations between Turkey and Syria, more accurately, Bashar al Assad’s regime, have reached to the extreme tension level.
As it’s known on June 22, the Turkish Phantom recon jet, which took off from Turkish Erkhach, Malatia military base, in one and half hours disappeared from the view of Turkish radars on the border with Syria in the area of Mediterranean sea.
After that the foreign affairs ministry of Syria stated that the air defense of Syria had destroyed an airplane in its territorial waters, because it had violated the air space of Syria. On June 24, the foreign affairs minister of Turkey Ahmed Davudoghlu stated that the Turkish jet was destroyed without a notification in the neural air space and added that Turkey had applied to the fourth article of NATO charter, according to which the NATO member states should hold a working meeting when one of the member states is being attacked or is under threat of attack.
When writing about this, the American New York Times observes that Davutoghlu has not quoted a more powerful clause (number 5), which defines that an attack on a member state is considered an attack against NATO and obliges all the member states to counter-attack.
On June 25, deputy-Premier of Turkey Byulent Arnch in his official statement noted that the incident will not become a reason for war but it won’t stay unanswered either.
Military experts expressed interesting opinions about this incident. For example, expert Igor Korotchenko during his interview to the Russian Ria Novosti agency didn’t rule out that the goal of the Turkish recon jet could have been the recon of the Syrian air defense systems and thus provoking the Syrians. Another military expert Said Aminov expressed a similar opinion.
On June 26, with the demand of Turkey in Brussels a NATO extraordinary session was summoned, the purpose of which was the discussion of the destruction of the Turkish plane. After the meeting hosting ambassadors from 28 member states the NATO member states released a statement, which denounces Syria’s act.
And the Secretary General of NATO Anders Fog Rasmussen mentioned in a press conference, “We carefully follow the developments in Syria and examine the process in the south-eastern part of Syria.”
However, Rasmussen also mentioned that during the meeting they haven’t discussed the enforcement of clause 5 of NATO charter.
This means that the NATO hasn’t discussed the matter of levying a war against Syria. Having quotes the opinion of an expert A. Shumilin, Ria Novosti agency writes that this session was the minimal reaction of NATO to the incident in order to ease the tension between the two countries.
The plummet of Turkish-Syrian relations, which Moscow Middle East Institute expert Yuri Shcheglovin calls “cold war between the two states,” started after the revolt in the Arab world when the wave of the Arab spring reached Syria. It’s interesting that the expert explains the tension between Turkey and Syria by the intention of Turkey to become a leading force in the Islam world.
We should perhaps agree with this concept as right after the Arab spring Turkey has changed its foreign policy. Turkey has started to share its territory with thousands of Syrian refugees and started to create training camps for the opposition groups of Syria. The transportation and catering of weapons to Syria is mostly done through Turkey. The political wing of the Syrian opposition – the Syrian National Council was established in Istanbul in August 2011, after which the sessions of the Council are periodically organized in Turkey.
The trade and economic ties between the two states have also recorded a serious slump. According to Sana news agency of Syria and Turkish journalist Emin Chulashan compared to 2011 the export of Turkish products to Syria reduced by nearly six times and reached 336 million USD from previous 1,7 billion. We should say that this tense relationship between Turkey and Syria has existed in the past as well. During the 20th century there have been ups and downs.
After the Second World War, during the Cold War era, Turkey and Syria were on drastically different poles. Turkey was a NATO member and an ally of the US and Syria was being supported by the Soviet Union. In the 1980-90s there were three serious problems in the relations of Turkey and Syria – distribution of water reserves, the Kurdish issue (Syria gave refuge to the leader of PKK Abdullah Ojalan and his warriors) and the third problem was Hatay region, which was historically part of Syria’s Alexandret. By the way, after the anti-government uprising in Syria dozens of thousands of Syrian refugees were located in camps of Hatay.
The culmination of Syrian-Turkish relations was in the fall of 1998, when Turkey after concentrating troops along the Syrian border threatened Syria with a military intervention. However, it was possible to avoid a military collision because Turkey urged Syria the Treaty of Adana, according to which Syria was obliged to stop supporting the Working Party of Kurdistan and its leader Ojalan specifically.
After the signing of this treaty and especially after the Justice and Development party of Turkey came to power the Turkish-Syrian relations have gradually started to develop. Turkey, having relied on its then-advisor to the Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoghlu’s concept “zero conflicts with neighbors” started to broadly develop political, economic and other ties with Syria, which reached their peak in 2010.
However, in 2011 the leadership of Turkey, having quickly forgotten its good relations with Assad’s family and having realized the new changes in the region, drastically changed its political by playing a new card with its old friend Assad’s opponents and bet on the Syrian insurgents.
In this regard, expert Shcheglov writes that after failing in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya Turkey had already developed its new strategy of having a leading role in the formation of power in the Islam world despite the fact that in this case he had lost to its main opponents Qatar, Saudi Arabia as well as Libya and Egypt.
But it’s still planning to have a tense “struggle” for its victory and is going to focus on new less radical Sunni governments formed in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. “It is no accident that in Tunisia an-Naida party that came to power announced of their intention to follow the Turkish model,” he writes.
We should say that the so-called moderate Islamist democracy, which was approved of by the west and is being applied by Erdoghan’s government in Turkey, is an American model developed quite awhile ago. Turkey as the main ally and “spokesman” of the US in the Middle East tries to push on the Islamist world this model.
This step of Ankara once again came to prove that Turkey is not sincere to its neighbors and its police resembled to its so-called politics “zero problems with neighbors” of the past. The same approach was used during the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement process. By trying to improve relations it was attempting to connect the issue with the NKR conflict and interfering with the processes of the South Caucasus.
The Turkish-Syrian relations have a key vitality for Armenia and the policy of the latter in regard to Middle East and may have no less importance on Armenia-Syria relations and the status of Armenians living in Armenia. However, Armenia is still trying to maintain neutrality in the Syrian case.
As of the possibility of military collision between Syria and Turkey we should mention that it is quite implausible regardless of the current tension between the two states. As it was mentioned above, there has been a threat of military collision between Syria and Turkey in the past as well but it never reached to the level of war.
The analysts also think that war is not very possible. For example, a German deutsche welle reporter Peter Philip during his interview to deutsche welle mentioned that the war between the two countries is little possible because it may decentralize the situation in regions along the 900-kilometer border.
One of the main reasons of impossibility of war Shcheglov finds the fact that Turkey as a member of NATO without the adoption of a relevant UN resolution will not openly start a war against Syria. Besides that the war will re-open the disputable issue of Alexandret. And in that case the majority of the Syrian population will go against Turkey instead Assad’s regime.
RUSSIA WARNS OF TURKEY’S SYRIA MILITARY BUILD-UP
Since shooting down a Russian SU-24 fighter jet Nov. 24, 2015 for briefly entering Turkish air space, Russian President Vladimir Putin put Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on notice that any more aggression would result in a Russian military response. Erdogan walks a dangerous line as a member of NATO provoking Russia into retaliatory action. Erdogan’s shoot down of the Russian jet was entirely unjustified whether or not the SU-24 strayed into Turkish air space.
Active war zones create many inadvertent violations of air space without incidents. Putin accused Erdogan of buying-transporting-and-selling cheap oil from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, raising tensions between the two countries.
While Erdogan insisted Putin has “no proof,” he never denied his son Bilal Ergogan actively runs an energy business, transporting oil from Iraq into Turkey.
After shooting down the Russian jet last November, Russia deployed S-400 heat-seeking missiles to Syria to defend against future Turkish F-16 attacks.
Deploying Russia’s advanced SU-34 jet fighters, Putin’s ready for any aggression by Turkey or any other NATO member. While NATO defended Turkey’s right to defend its air space last November, NATO has limited resources to defend Turkey in a military skirmish with Russia.
“The Russian Defense Minister registers a growing number of signs of hidden preparation of the Turkish armed forces for active actions in the territory of Syria,” wrote the Russian Foreign Ministry. Syria has an ax to grind in Syria backing the Saudi-funded insurgency to topple Syria President Bashar al-Assad. Putin said Iran—a fellow Shiite nation—backs al-Assad’s Shiite government against a well-funded, five-year-old Saudi-backed Sunni insurgency.
Erdogan’s Salafist Muslim country is joined at the hip with Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi regime, sabotaging al-Assad’s Shiite regime. Meeting in Geneva to resolve the five-year-old Syrian war, U.N. Envoy Staffan de Mistura hopes to get all sides on the same page. He expects al-Assad to agree with the Saudi-backed Wahhabi opposition groups to accept regime change in Damascus.
Erodgan’s dog in the fight hinges on his family’s oil business with ISIS, the radical Wahhabi group capturing some 30% of Iraq’s and Syria’s sovereign land, killing 250,000 and displacing 2 million more to neighboring countries and Europe. De Mistura and Secretary of State John Kerry know that Syria, Russia and Iran will never accept Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s formula for peace: Turning Syria into a Sunni regime. Holding Geneva “peace talks” offers little hope to resolve the Syrian war.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey won’t admit that Syria has no “civil war” but defends itself against a well-funded Salafist and Wahhabi insurgency, seeking to topple al-Assad’s Shiite government.
While Putin isn’t invested in the Sunni-Shiite conflict, he has army, navy and air forces bases in Syria. Unlike Riyadh that funds proxy war around the planet, Turkey has military objectives in Syria running counter to alleged U.S. foreign policy of battling ISIS. Putin has endured his share of criticism for bombing Saudi-backed opposition groups seeking to topple al-Assad. Putin’s concern about Turkey’s military build up near Syria should worry the Kurds more than Moscow.
While fighting along Iraqi forces to take back lost Iraqi and Syria territory, the Kurds have only endured attacks by the Turks and Saudis. Iraq’s Kurdish Leader Massud Barzani called today for an independent Kurdish state.
Turkey’s alliance with Saudi Arabia can’t mask its support of Saudi-backed Sunni opposition seeking to install a Wahhabi regime in Damascus. U.S. officials, led by Kerry, have a hard time admitting that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have destabilized the region battling al-Assad. Meeting with Kerry in Moscow Dec. 15, 2015, it’s taken the U.S. Statement five years to figure out that Saudi Arabia and Turkey have destabilized the region.
However one dislikes al-Assad, it’s undeniable that he’s defending his U.N.-backed Shiite government against a Saudi-funded proxy war. Putin wanted Kerry to acknowledge that toppling al-Assad would destabilize the region worse than the ISIS takeover of parts of Iraq and Syria.
Doling out untold amounts of cash, it’s difficult for the U.S. or other Western powers to tell the Saudis “no,” especially about imposing their agenda in the Mideast.
NATO officials should put Turkey on notice that the alliance won’t tolerate provocative acts toward Russia. Refusing to grant Russian observation flights over Turkey breaches the Treaty of Open Skies, allowing flyover rights from non-hostile countries.
“The Russian Defense Ministry regards these action of the Turkish party as a dangerous precedent and an attempt to hide the illegal military activity near the Syria border,” said Moscow, concerned that Turkey plans to place ground troops to help Saudi-backed oppositions groups in Syria.
Russian Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov said Russia carried out 237 sorties in the last three days, allowing the Syrian military to retake provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Homs, Hama and Deir al-Zor. Turkey rejects Russia’s help to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, joining Saudi Arabia in insisting that al-Assad step down.
NATO Plans Biggest Military Build-Up Against Russia Since The Cold War
BRUSSELS – Backed by an increase in U.S. military spending, NATO is planning its biggest build-up in Eastern Europe since the Cold War to deter Russia, but it will reject Polish demands for permanent bases.
Worried since Russia’s seizure of Crimea that Moscow could rapidly invade Poland or the Baltic states, the Western military alliance wants to bolster defenses on its eastern flank without provoking the Kremlin by stationing large forces permanently.
NATO defense ministers will this week begin outlining plans for a complex web of small eastern outposts and warehoused equipment ready for a rapid response force, with troops on rotation and war games held regularly. The rapid response force includes air, maritime and special operations units of up to 40,000 personnel.
The allies are also expected to offer Moscow a renewed dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, which has not met since 2014, about improved military transparency to avoid surprise events and misunderstandings, a senior NATO diplomat said.
U.S. plans for a four-fold increase in military spending in Europe, to $3.4 billion in 2017, are central to the strategy, which has been shaped in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says the U.S. plans will mean “more troops in the eastern part of the alliance . . . the pre-positioning of equipment, tanks, armored vehicles . . . more exercises and more investment in infrastructure.”
Such moves will reinforce the message from U.S. President Barack Obama, delivered in a speech in Estonia in 2014, that NATO will help ensure the independence of the three Baltic states, which for decades were part of the Soviet Union.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas openly described Russia as a threat in comments to Reuters last June, but many European countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are wary of upsetting the continent’s biggest energy supplier.
With such concerns paramount, diplomats and officials say NATO will not back requests for permanent bases by Poland, which has a history of fraught relations with Russia.
“I am a great proponent of strong deterrents and to improve our resilience, but I do think that the best way to do it is to do it on a rotational basis,” said Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.
Stoltenberg has also said he will not be “dragged into an arms race.”
Russia has made clear it would regard any moves to bring NATO infrastructure closer to its borders as a threat, and the Kremlin has warned that it would take “reciprocal steps.”
Western powers’ relations with Russia have deteriorated over the almost 2-year-old conflict in Ukraine, but the West also need Russia’s help in dealing with terrorism and the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
If approved by Congress, Washington says one U.S. armored brigade combat team’s vehicles and equipment will be stored in warehouses in Germany and in the east, from Bulgaria to Estonia.
Moving equipment nearer a potential front is seen as crucial to be able to quickly combat surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles from Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, which could prevent forces from entering or moving across air, land and sea.
A study by the RAND Corp., a U.S. defense think tank, found that Russia could overrun the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania within three days, leaving NATO and the United States no good options to respond.
Avoiding a return to the Cold War, when 300,000 U.S. service personnel were stationed in Europe, NATO generals want to adhere to a 1997 agreement with Moscow not to station substantial combat forces on the NATO-Russia border. They describe the build-up as a “persistent” but not “permanent” presence.
Some diplomats say NATO’s plans recall allied support for West Berlin in the 1950s, when British, French and U.S. forces ensured the Soviet Union could not control all of Berlin, although this time many more countries would rotate through.
“You will have small contingents in the east as a symbolic presence. It means you are not just attacking Estonia, but Britain, France or the United States,” said one NATO diplomat.
That drives home the commitment enshrined in NATO’s founding treaty that an attack on one ally is an attack on all, meaning all 28 NATO nations would be required to respond in the case of any potential Russian aggression.
Details of the plan are far from finalized, and the defense ministers meeting this week in Brussels will seek political agreement among all allies before mapping out the strategy. Issues such as how NATO nuclear weapons in Western Europe could play into any potential conflict are extremely sensitive.
Allies say there will not be permanent NATO bases in Poland or the Baltics despite strong campaigning by the new conservative Polish government. Warsaw will host the next summit of NATO leaders in July and sees offers of British and French troops for exercises as signaling a permanent presence, though diplomats deny this is the case.
“There will not be another Ramstein in Poland,” said one NATO diplomat, referring to a large U.S. Air Force base in southwestern Germany.
Poland will, however, be expected to host NATO allies at its bases temporarily and share some costs.
Related Material: Turkish-Russian tension causes military build up
Despite the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Sergey Lavrov, meeting in Belgrade on Dec. 3 – marking the first high-level contact between the two countries since the downing of a Russian jet for violating Turkish air space on Nov. 24 – tension keeps escalating. One result is the ongoing military pile up in the region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s words in Moscow before the meeting in Belgrade increased the strain in relations. He said Russia would “not forget” the incident and its response would not be limited to economic sanctions. “Apparently Allah decided to punish the ruling clique in Turkey by taking away their sanity,” Putin said in the kind of language rarely heard in diplomacy. “Part of the current Turkish leadership has a direct responsibility for the deaths of our troops in Syria.”
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, again challenged Putin over his claims that Turkey’s leadership has been helping the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by smuggling oil into the country. Erdoğan repeated his vow to step down from his position if Putin can prove his accusations, asking whether Putin will do the same if he cannot back up his claims. He also said it was “not ethical” for Putin to involve Erdoğan’s family members in his accusations against Turkey, while adding that Ankara has evidence that the Russians have themselves been involved in the illegal oil trade with ISIL.
As the war of words between the Turkish and Russian leaders continues, the military build-up in the region has further increased over the past two days. Russia announced that it will sell and deploy S-300 missile systems to Iran, a major defender of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
That follows Moscow’s decision to deploy superior model S-400 missile systems to Syria, while also stationing its Black Sea fleet flag ship, the “Moskva” missile cruiser, off of Syria. Meanwhile, on Nov. 3 three NATO warships with Spanish, Portuguese and Canadian flags entered the Black Sea, passing through the Turkish straits.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had already announced that Germany and Denmark would be sending warships to the Eastern Mediterranean to support Turkey amid Russia’s increased positioning in Syria, in addition to the U.S. missile destroyer USS Doland Cook already patrolling there.
Added to this picture, British war planes started taking off from their bases in Cyprus on the night of Nov. 2 to bomb ISIL targets in Syria, only three hours after Prime Minister David Cameron got parliamentary approval for air strike operations.
German Foreign Minister Ursula Von Der Leyen was in Ankara on the afternoon of Nov. 3 to get Turkish permission to deploy Tornado war planes and 550 troopers at Turkey’s strategic İncirlik air base near the Syria border, where the U.S.’s F-15, 16 and A-10 jets have been staging operations against ISIL alongside Turkish F-16s. Ankara has also given French fighter planes permission to use Turkish air space in operations against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, while the U.K. has already opened its bases in Cyprus to French air forces staging anti-ISIL operations.
All this adds up to an unusually serious military build-up in an already explosively tense region. The common assumption is that neither the U.S. nor Russia want to get into a direct fight over the crisis in Syria or the one in Ukraine.
But historical experience shows us that conflicts – even wars – can sometimes start over unintended or even unimportant incidents, like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. As such, the need for a diplomatic solution to the tension between Turkey and Russia over the crisis in Syria is vital, in order to prevent tension from further escalating into open conflict.