Russia and Kurds Destroy ISIS: Turkey, Saudi and other Islamic States Set to Interfere, NATO and CHINA MUST Back PUTIN or Risk WWIII


21st Century Wire says…

Moscow and NATO member state Turkey are squaring off in the Syrian conflict, and the potential consequences for the trans-Atlantic alliance are impossible to predict.

Officials in Angela Merkel’s Chancellery in Berlin are concerned about how close NATO has already come to a conflict with Russia. Indeed, Syria could become a vital test case for the military alliance.

But the situation is complex: In order to thwart Putin, NATO must make it clear that it stands behind its member states in their moment of need. Yet NATO also wants to avoid a military conflict with Russia at all costs.

Officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the situation between Ankara and Moscow as being extremely volatile.

“The armed forces of the two states are both active in fierce fighting on the Turkish-Syrian border, in some cases just a few kilometers from each other,” one NATO official says.




Sunni World Playing a Dangerous Game 350,000 Soldiers, 20,000 Tanks & 2,500 Warplanes Amass Near Syria


Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia has announced the launch of the most massive military drill ever staged in the Middle East; with over 20 Gulf states and other allied nations participating in the incredible display of military might.+

The official Twitter account for North Thunder said the exercises were being held at King Khalid Military City in Hafr Al Batin from February 14 until March 10.+

“A military exercise will be commanded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the participation of 20 countries and the Peninsula Shield force as well,” the account said.

“The main objective is to demonstrate the high combat readiness of the participating armed forces and their readiness and ability to function successfully in joint operations,” the account said.+

The drill, coined “Northern Thunder,”will include up to 350,000 troops, 20,000 tanks, 2,500 warplanes and 450 helicopters, and will coordinate the use of ground forces, as well as naval and air force personnel.+



The participating countries are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Senegal, Sudan, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Chad, Tunisia, Comoro Islands, Djibouti, Malaysia, Egypt, Mauritania, and Mauritius, according to Gulf News.

The professed aim of the drill is to show that Saudi Arabia and its allies “stand united in confronting all challenges and preserving peace and stability in the region.”+

“It will serve to boost fighting capabilities, exchange information, benefit from experiences and expertise and enhance coordination between the participating countries,” Saudi Arabia’s Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri said.+



However, the reality underpinning the drill is far more convoluted than the House of Saud is willing to admit, and has little to do with regional stability.+

What has actually taken place is that the Russian intervention into the Syrian conflict has usurped the Western-backed plan of providing material assistance to rebel groups attempting to overthrow the al-Assad government.+

The Russian-backed offensive in Syria has resulted in the Azaz corridor, a major supply route for ‘covert’ CIA weapons shipments to the so-called “moderate rebels,” being shut down, which has left the U.S. scrambling for options to continue their campaign of regime change in Syria.+

The New York Times explained:


RussianTU-160 Bomber


The Russian military action has changed the shape of a conflict that had effectively been stalemated for years. Suddenly, Mr. Assad and his allies have momentum, and the United States-backed rebels are on the run…

The Russians have cut off many of the pathways the C.I.A. has been using for a not-very-secret effort to arm rebel groups, according to several current and former officials.+

With the CIA-backed rebels increasingly cut off from their arms supply — the US had to engage in new tactics to bolster the regime change strategy – escalation through client states.+

Enter the Saudi coalition.

While the U.S. fears direct confrontation with Russia in Syria, due to the potential devolution of the conflict into a hot war between the two nuclear powerhouses, a proxy army raised by the Saudis would seemingly negate this potential and allow Western interests to continue their preferred strategy of regime change.+

In a recent announcement, Saudi Arabia said that it had deployed U.S. made F-15s to Turkey under the auspices of fighting ISIS.+

“The Saudi kingdom now has a presence at the İncirlik base in Turkey. Saudi warplanes are present with their crews to intensify aerial operations along with missions launched from bases in Saudi Arabia,” Al Assiri told Al Arabiya television prior to the commencement of the military drill.+

Additionally, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have both lobbied for Western approval for a ground invasion of Syria – with Turkey openly acknowledging the planning of a joint attack.+

But even as the Saudis attempt to flex their U.S. purchased military hardware as a warning to the Assad regime and the Russians, reality dictates that even those within the coalition understand exactly who is in control within the Syrian theater of war.+

According to a report by Defense News:


A Jordanian official confirmed that the country will not participate in any Turkish- or Arab-led Syrian invasion unless mandated by the United Nations, led by western forces and coordinated with Russia.+

“Jordan is not going to send ground forces into Syria unless these troops are led by Americans and British,” the Jordanian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We have very long borders with Iraq and Syria which are more than 550 kilometers. Any ground troops including Jordanian forces should be sent after a UN approval and after full coordination with Russia.”+

Make no mistake that regardless of Western claims; intervention in Syria has very little, if anything, to do with ISIS – and everything to do with the power games of energy resources and strategic geopolitical control.+

One could easily question whether this is truly a drill or the buildup of an invasion force; but could the Saudis really be foolish enough to endanger their entire regime by wading into a direct military confrontation with the Russians?+

Only time will tell — but what’s certain is that a dangerous game is being played by the Western internationalists that could potentially result in a direct confrontation with Russia.+

Jay Syrmopoulos is a political analyst, free thinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism.



Malaysia has joined a major military exercise led by Saudi Arabia for the first time, raising questions about the extent of the Southeast Asian state’s involvement in the Middle East.
This week, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said that Malaysia was among 20 Arab and Islamic countries participating in the so-called “Thunder of the North” exercise at King Khalid Military City in Hafar Al-Batin in the country’s north, which is taking place from February 16 up till March 4. While the exercise has been going on for 15 years, this is the first time Malaysia has taken part in it.
Malaysia’s involvement is just the latest in a series of steps it has taken that suggests a closer alignment with the kingdom amid growing turmoil in the Middle East and the rising threat of the Islamic State.

As I noted in a previous piece, Malaysia had sent armed personnel and equipment to Riyadh last year to evacuate people trapped in Yemen – both its own citizens as well as those of neighboring states – with the help of Arab states and aid agencies (See: “Did Malaysia Just Join the Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen?”).

Malaysia also joined a Saudi-led, 34-member Islamic alliance against the Islamic State in December last year, though defense officials subsequently said that its participation was limited to intelligence sharing.
Each of these moves has raised concerns that Malaysia may be getting directly involved in military operations by Saudi-led coalition against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, requiring Malaysian officials to respond that this is in fact not the case.

This instance was no different. On February 16, Malaysian defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein clarified in a statement seen by The Diplomat that the exercise had “no link whatsoever with the military campaign in Yemen,” noting that the exercise had been going on for years and that the war games were being held in the north of Saudi Arabia, while Yemen was located in the country’s south.

“While I have been consistent in stating that Malaysia is supportive of efforts to curb militancy, our Armed Forces have never taken part in any military operation in Yemen,” Hishammuddin said according to Malaysian media outlets.

Hishammuddin went on to add that Malaysia was participating in the exercise as it would provide its armed forces with an opportunity to understand humanitarian assistance and disaster relief procedures and methods to extract Malaysians from conflict zones.

That is consistent with both what Malaysian defense officials have said before and what has been publicly disclosed thus far about the Southeast Asian state’s activities in the Middle East.

While Malaysian officials have been focused on downplaying the country’s involvement, Saudi Arabia has unsurprisingly been trying to play the exercises up as a demonstration of its military might.

SPA dubbed this iteration of the exercise the “most important and largest in the region’s history” in terms of both the number of nations participating as well as the weaponry being used.

Apart from Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, the other participating countries in the exercise are UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Senegal, Sudan, the Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Chad, Tunisia, Comoro Islands, Djibouti, Mauritania and Mauritius.

Saudi sources also indicated that the members of the new “anti-terrorism” coalition will gather in Saudi Arabia next month for the first meeting.

Stupid Erdogan Says It’s Russia That Must Be Held Accountable for All Deaths in Syrian Civil War


In an absolutely outrageous scene, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan actually blamed Russia – publicly – for the deaths of up to 400,000 people in Syria over the course of the last five years.

This amazing statement comes from a man who more than any other party on earth is directly responsible for the ISIS horror show that has tormented, defiled, and butchered a once-peaceful nation to further his own insidious ‘Neo-Ottoman’ objectives.

While visiting his counterpart in Senegal this week, and ostensibly with a straight face, the Turkish tyrant stated that, ‘ Russia must be held accountable for the people it has killed within Syria’s borders. By cooperatiing with the regime, the number of people they have killed has reached 400,000.’

Erdogan for some reason forgot to mention that he was directly responsible for facilitating the flow of ISIS terrorists into Syria from countries all over the world and arming them to the teeth in order to wage an unholy war on a peaceful neighbor whose greatest crime against him was a desire to be his friend.

He also forgot to mention that he was directly responsible for committing the heinous war crime of gassing Syrian civilians in order to manipulate Obama’s idiotic ‘red line’ remarks about the use of chemical weapons.

Turkish president makes an absolutely appalling accusation in Senegal, blaming his nation’s crimes on the nation that has stopped them.

In an absolutely outrageous scene, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan actually blamed Russia – publicly – for the deaths of up to 400,000 people in Syria over the course of the last five years.

This amazing statement comes from a man who more than any other party on earth is directly responsible for the ISIS horror show that has tormented, defiled, and butchered a once-peaceful nation to further his own insidious ‘Neo-Ottoman’ objectives.

While visiting his counterpart in Senegal this week, and ostensibly with a straight face, the Turkish tyrant stated that, ‘ Russia must be held accountable for the people it has killed within Syria’s borders. By cooperatiing with the regime, the number of people they have killed has reached 400,000.’

Erdogan for some reason forgot to mention that he was directly responsible for facilitating the flow of ISIS terrorists into Syria from countries all over the world and arming them to the teeth in order to wage an unholy war on a peaceful neighbor whose greatest crime against him was a desire to be his friend.

He also forgot to mention that he was directly responsible for committing the heinous war crime of gassing Syrian civilians in order to manipulate Obama’s idiotic ‘red line’ remarks about the use of chemical weapons.

He also forgot to mention how his son was directly responsible for running a smuggling operation that transported hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars of stolen Syrian oil that he sold to the Israelis and which served as the main source of funding for the greatest terror group in world history.

He also forgot to mention how his daughter was directly responsible for operating a secret ISIS hospital on the Turkish side of the border where terrorists would go to heal their wounds, rest up, and return back to resume their slaughter of the Syrian people.

Erdogan was also directly responsible for providing shelter and a free zone of operation on his territory for the ‘Free Syrian Army’ back in 2011. And it was Istanbul where he hosted the ‘opposition’ in order to plan its war against the Syrian people and its legitimate government.

Erdogan also offered his territory to serve as the conduit through which a large portion of Gaddafi’s arsenal (after he was lynched) was funneled into Syria eventually ending up in the hands of the al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Syria – the so-called ‘rat line’ (which incidentally led to the murder of US ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi).

All of this is to say nothing of the mass exodus of ‘refugees’ which he is directly responsible for (God only knows how many of whom are sadistic terrorists fleeing a lost cause) who are currently assaulting and raping their way around Europe, and of whom a cell has already perpetrated a mass killing in France

But President Erdogan – a man absolutely and indisputably guilty of mass murder, rape, pillage, plunder, torture, and enslavement on an epic scale – stands as shameless as ever. Worse still, he somehow manages to muster enough temerity to get in front of the cameras and tell the world that not only are his crimes not his fault; but rather, they are the fault of the very man who intervened to stop them.

What can one say about such madness? What can one say about, or even to, a man who lies in such a nakedly-offensive and sickening manner? I myself can think of only one thing.

President Erdogan:


Russia is set to initiate a meeting of the UN Security Council today to prevent Turkey’s planned invasion of Syria.

Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, is most concerned with:

Turkey’s announced plans to put boots on the ground in northern Syria,”

It undercuts efforts to launch a political settlement in the Syrian Arab Republic,”

Russia seeks to do the following at the meeting:

“End any actions that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, that are at odds with UN Security Council resolution 2254, as well as [interfere] with the launch of the Syrian peace process.”

Just two weeks ago Russia announced that it had ‘serious grounds’ to believe Turkey was planning a ground invasion, after the Turks refused to let Russia fly surveillance flights near its border with Syria.


Since then, Saudi Arabia has been openly supportive of the plan and Turkey has been hyping numerous reasons that it could use to try and justify its coming invasion.

Turkey has even proposed somewhat of a land-grab, saying it wants a 10km ‘secure line’cut across Northern Syria, which also happened to include an arms smuggling corridor that the CIA has been using to supply terrorists throughout Syria.

Incredibly, instead of taking Turkey’s threatening behaviour seriously, Samantha Power of the United States accused Moscow of trying to “distract the world” with its Security Council resolution.

Perhaps what angers the US the most is that Russia is playing this 100% by the book, an alien concept to US foreign policy for at least the past 15 years, as it seeks to guarantee the sovereignty of the Syrian state and properly eradicate its terror problem.

Is Russia’s resolution simply a ‘distraction’, or a genuine attempt to prevent World War 3?



Putin vs. Erdogan: NATO Concerned over Possible Russia-Turkey Hostilities

Photo Gallery: Turkey and Russia Ratchet Up Tensions Photos
AP/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

In Syria, the danger of a war between Turkey and Russia is on the rise. Officials in Berlin are worried that the situation could become an uncomfortable test case for NATO while Moscow seems intent on sowing divisions within the alliance.


Does Erdogan Want War with Russia?

The situation with Turkey is rapidly getting out of control: not only have the Turks conducted artillery strikes across the Syrian border, Turkey has refused to comply with its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty and refused to let a Russian surveillance aircraft overfly Turkey.

The Russian military has now declared that it had detected signs of Turkish preparations for an invasion.

The Turkish refusal to abide by the Open Skies Treaty is an extremely worrisome development, especially when combined with the Russian warnings about the preparation for an invasion of Syria, and the Russians are not mincing their words:

There are plenty more indicators and warnings showing that an escalation is possible: the Geneva negotiations have been abruptly terminated, the Saudis are threatening to invade Syria and there are signs that the Syrian army is slowly but surely preparing an operation to liberate Aleppo from the Takfiris, creating a panic in Ankara and Riyadh (so much for the stupid notions that the Russians are not winning or that the Syrian military does not exist).

In the meantime, there are plenty of signs that Erdogan’s entire “grand plan” for Syria has completely collapsed that that he has no more options left (please read the excellent analysis by Ghassan Kadi on this topic posted today as well as Pepe Escobar’s take on the same issue).

I am not a psychic or a prophet. I cannot tell what Erdogan is really thinking, or whether the Turks will try to invade Syria. But what I can do is to try to make some educated guesses about possible Russian responses to such an event.

First, two basic principles:

1) If Russian forces are attacked they will hit back. Putin already gave them that authority and this will happen almost automatically with only local commanders making the final call. In other words, such an exchange of fire would not automatically be tantamount to a full-scale war between Turkey and Russia.

2) If Turkey invades Syria, Russia will act in strict compliance with international law. That means that she will demand an emergency meeting of the UNSC and that much will depend upon what the Council’s reaction will be.

If the usual gangs of puppets “covers” for Turkey (which is by no means certain, in my opinion, at least not for very long, maybe a week or so max) then the Russians will then refer to their obligations to assist Syria under the 1980

Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation” between the two countries (Russia being today the successor state to the USSR the treaty is still in force) and the 2015

Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic on thedeployment of aviation group of the Armed Forces on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic“.

In other words, Russia will retain a degree of flexibility to interpret the situation in one way or another. That, in turn, means that much will depend on what the Turks really try achieve.

If we are talking about the typical Turkish violation of a national border to attack the Kurds, like what they did many times in the past already, and if that intervention is limited in depth, Russia will probably chose non-military means to put pressure on Turkey.

Again, while the crazies in Turkey badly want a war with Russia to internationalize the conflict and force NATO to intervene, the Russians have no interest at all in such an escalation. Just as in the Donbass, the West is trying to bait Russia into a war and Russia is refusing to take that bait.

The problem is that unlike the Ukronazis, the Turks have a much more powerful military machine which the Russian cannot ignore like they have ignored the Ukronazi military and various death squads.

So if Erdogan’s goal is just to look macho and flex some muscle, say like what Reagan did in Grenada, then he can probably get away with it, at least for a short operation. But if Erdogan is dead set in having a conflict with Russia, the Russian won’t be able to just hunker down and wait for him to calm down.

In the latter case, Russia will have a number of escalatory options.

The first obvious options is to help the Syrians and Kurds with intelligence. This is already taking place now and will only intensify in the case of a Turkish invasion.

The second is to shoot Turkish fixed or rotary-wing aircraft out of the skies. This is an easy option as the Syrians already have some pretty good air defense systems (including some Pantsir-S1, Buk-M1/2E, Tunguskas 2K22 and a fairly robust early-warning system) and a few more or less capable aircraft (possibly including upgraded MiG-29s). The Kremlin can thus enjoy a degree of what the CIA called “plausible deniability”.

The third option for Russia is to help the Syrians with the artillery system she reportedly deployed in the country including 52-millimeter MTSA-B guns, BM-27 Uragan and BM-30 Smerch rocket launchers.

All these options would still fall short of a “full-scale” war between Russia and Turkey. But if Erdogan is determined to escalate further then a war will be inevitable. If Turkey tries to attack Khmeimim directly, then Russia will strike back, no doubt about it.

What could it look like?

The first thing I would say is that neither country will try to invade the other one.

The notion of Turkey invading Russia is self-evidently ludicrous, but while Turkey does fall within the 1000km depth the Russian military is trained to fight in, I don’t believe that Russia would ever attempt this. For one thing, and just as was the case with Georgia, nobody in Russia really believes that the Turks, as a nation, want war.

If anything, Erdogan is much more of a “Saakashvili v2″ then a Hitler and he will be dealt with similarly. Furthermore, while during the 08.08.08 war Russia had to protect the Ossetians from the quasi-genocidal Georgians, Russia has no such obligations in Kurdistan.

A much more likely scenario is a repeat what we have already seen, but on a much larger scale: if Erdogan really forces Russia into a war, what will happen will be cruise and ballistic missile attacks on the infrastructure supporting the Turkish invasion, the sinking of any Turkish Navy ship involved in this effort, and bomb and missile attacks on Turkish force concentrations, ammo and fuel (POL) dumps and, especially, airfields. The goal of the Russian response will not be to “defeat” Turkey militarily, but to push back the Turks long enough to force some kind of a ceasefire upon Erdogan.

Even if the Russian military is capable of completely defeating Turkey in a war, the Kremlin also realizes that any war between Turkey and Russia ought to be stopped as soon as possible and that rather than “defeating Turkey” the real Russian objective ought be to defeat Erdogan.

For this reason, the Russians, far from being trigger happy, will undertake every imaginable effort to show that they did not initiate the war, even if that means letting Turkey enter into Syria, at least as long as the Turks stay close to their border and do not attempt to change the course of the war.

If all the Turks want is a thin “security zone” inside Syria, I don’t see the Russians using military force to deny this to them. They will protest, vehemently, on a diplomatic level, and they will help the Syrians and Kurds, but they will not directly attack the Turkish forces.

What about the Saudis? Well, what about them? They can’t even deal with the Houthis in Yemen, why would anyone think that they could make a difference in Syria? The Saudi military is a joke, a degenerate repression force barely capable of engaging in anti-Shia repression operations.

They can make all the threats they want, but if they try to move into Syria the Syrians, Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah will all try to race each other to be the first one to finally get a hold of these SOBs in teach them a lesson they shall not forget in a long time.

Frankly, I simply don’t want to believe that Erdogan and his advisors are crazy enough to try to trigger a war with Russia or even to invade Syria.

While Erdogan himself is clearly a maniac, I cannot believe that his entire staff is also composed of lunatics. Furthermore, I cannot imagine that the US/NATO/EU would actually support a Turkish invasion of Syria or, even less so, an attack on Russia. Russophobia is great only as long as it does not expose you to a continental war, at which point your self-interest and survival prevails over any ideological notions. At least I hope so.


And maybe I am naive, but I want to believe that the Turkish people are not going to just sit back and do nothing while their leader is dragging their country towards a war with Russia.


In conclusion, I want to mention one disturbing thing. A Greek elder, a monastic named Paisios, whom the Greek Orthodox Church has glorified as a saint, was known for his prophetic visions.

One of the most famous one was his prediction that Turkey and Russia would have a major war which would result in a complete break-up of Turkey and the liberation of Constantinople from the Ottoman yoke (if you are interested by the details, click here and here).

Now I quite realize that in our times most people will immediately dismiss such things as meaningless nonsense, obscurantism, superstition, wishful thinking on the part of a “resentful Greek”, religious gobbledygook etc. But please keep in mind that between the 15th and the 20th century, Russia and Turkey have already fought 12 wars (!). That over 2 wars (2.4 exactly) per century and that the last one happened a century ago.

So whether you look at prophecies, past experience or statistics, things look very, very scary, at least to me. And, as Ghassan Kadi and Pepe Escobar have explained, Erdogan is now cornered. That also makes him very dangerous.

The AngloZionists are experts at unleashing crazed ideologues (Wahabis in the Middle-East and Nazis in the Ukraine) but that they always seem to eventually somehow lose control over them. I just hope that the American ‘cover’ of the Turkish regime did not result in the unleashing of yet another rabid ideology – Ottoman Imperialism – or, if it has, that it is not too late for the US to rein in this lunatic before it is too late.

Erdogan and his regime are a threat to regional and even world piece. I don’t really care who removes him, the Turkish people or the White House, but I sure hope that his days in power are numbered because as long as he is in power a catastrophe of major proportions can happen.

Putin’s winning in Syria – but making a powerful new enemy

This time he’s taking on Turkey’s President Erdogan, a ruler as ruthless as he is

Listen Audio Player

Russia’s bombing of the city of Aleppo this week sent a clear message: Vladimir Putin is now in charge of the endgame in Syria.

Moscow’s plan — essentially, to restore its ally Bashar al-Assad to power — is quickly becoming a reality that the rest of the world will have to accept.

America, Britain and the rest may not be comfortable with Putin’s ambitions in the Middle East, or his methods of achieving them. But the idea of backing a ‘moderate opposition’ in Syria has been proved a fantasy that leaves the field to Putin and Assad.

The Syrian partial ceasefire, brokered in Munich last week by America’s John Kerry, only served to reinforce this sense of Putin’s power.

Under the terms of the deal, all combatants were to cease hostilities while humanitarian aid was delivered to rebel enclaves besieged by government troops. Except Russia, whose planes have continued bombing ‘terrorist targets’ — and since Assad insists that all his enemies are ‘terrorists’, the Munich ceasefire effectively means business as usual for Russian and Syrian warplanes.

In recent days, they have bombed Médecins Sans Frontières hospitals in rebel-held Idlib and Azaz, and Free Syrian Army positions in the northern suburbs of Aleppo. In response to international condemnation, the Russian foreign ministry has declared that it ‘has still not received convincing evidence of civilian deaths as a result of Russian air strikes’.

Presidents Putin and Obama have both sought to intervene in the conflict militarily, but all the successes have been Russia’s. Between August 2014 and December last year, the US Air Force made 4,669 air strikes to aid Syria’s elusive ‘moderate opposition’ and degrade Isis. But while this made little impact strategically, Russian air power has proved decisive. Since last September, a single squadron of Russian bombers flying some 510 sorties a week has turned the balance of the war in Assad’s favour.

Russian armour and tanks have reinvigorated the Syrian army’s battered forces. Ostensibly flown in to protect the Khmeimim airbase, Russian T-90 tanks have since been reported in the vanguard of Syrian army assaults on rebel strongholds south of Aleppo.

Putin is also seeking to reconcile Syria’s warring factions. While the Pentagon spent billions trying to train an army of democracy–friendly moderates which turned out not to exist, Russian military intelligence has been working with its Syrian counterparts to identify rebel groups who would be willing to cut a deal with Assad.

The senior Syrian officer corps was largely trained in Moscow during the Cold War. According to one well-placed Russian diplomat, the Kremlin has drawn up a list of 38 potential opposition allies and has been actively wooing them since last October.

The list is said to include the Syrian National Council’s current president, Khaled al-Khoja, together with three of his predecessors — Ahmad Jarba, Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib and Hadi al-Bahra.

Throughout the winter, a number of rebel leaders have gone to Moscow to discuss terms — with mixed success. Late last month, a Russian attempt to bring several Syrian opposition parties together in Moscow collapsed. Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a close Assad ally who defected from the Syrian Republican Guard in 2012, has drawn up an 11-point ‘national project’ which envisions a general ceasefire, followed by a joint regime-rebel assault on Isis. It is a proposal backed by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and part of a wider strategy that Russia pursued successfully in Chechnya in the early 2000s: reward rebels who are willing to change sides with a place at the winners’ table, while mercilessly bombing those who resist.

The US investigative journalist Robert Parry has made an astonishing claim – and one that has gone completely unnoticed.

He is reporting that the Russian government has warned Erdogan that Russia is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend its Syrian strike force from Turkish attack.

Parry’s exact words are as follows:

“A source close to Russian President Vladimir Putin told me that the Russians have warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons if necessary to save their troops in the face of a Turkish-Saudi onslaught.

Since Turkey is a member of NATO, any such conflict could quickly escalate into a full-scale nuclear confrontation.”

Generally I would be sceptical of such a story from an anonymous source. However Parry is a journalist of the highest reliability and integrity so there can be no doubt he actually has been told this by a real source.

Of course it is possible the source is making the story up, or that he is not as close to Putin as Parry believes.

However on 11th February 2016 Russia’s Security Council held a meeting the public report of which is unusually terse, whilst on the same day the Russian military reported to Putin about a series of military exercises arranged at short notice in their southern military district, which look like they were intended to prepare the Russian military for rapid action at short notice against Turkey should the need arise.

If a warning really was given it might have been given either on that day or possibly on the day after, to coincide with the military exercises whose meaning in that case would not be lost on either the US or the Turks.

The meeting of the Security Council (whose importance I discussed here) would in that case have been convened to discuss and authorise it.

The fact Obama telephoned Putin a day later on 14th February 2016 might also be connected to the warning, if it really was given.

Both the Turks and the Russians would surely have informed the US of such a warning. It would be entirely understandable in that case that the US President would want to discuss it with the Russian President. In fact it would be astonishing if he did not want to.

If it was the warning Obama and Putin discussed, then that might explain why the US and the Russians are giving such completely different accounts of the conversation.

Neither side would want to make the warning public – something which would escalate the crisis to stratospheric levels – and each would want to concoct a cover story to hide what was really discussed, which given the circumstances and the urgency they might be unlikely to coordinate with each other. That might explain why the accounts of the conversation differ so much.

Against that it must be said that it is by no means unusual for Russian and Western governments to publish radically different accounts of conversations Russian and Western leaders have with each other.

All this it should be stressed is speculation, though as is apparent it is consistent with some of the diplomatic and military moves.

If such a warning really was given it would not be the first time the US or Russia have threatened to use nuclear weapons.

The US for example warned Saddam Hussein in 1990 that it was ready to retaliate with nuclear weapons if he used chemical weapons against their troops in the First Gulf War.

However a threat to use nuclear weapons is one that is never made lightly. If it really was made it shows how fraught the situation in Syria has become.

If the Russians really did make such a threat then it would be a further reason why the US and its European allies would be urging Erdogan to act with restraint, and would be counselling him against plunging into a war with the Russians in Syria.

I had already guessed this was the case (see here and here) and in the same article in which he reports the Russian threat Parry discusses this issue extensively.

Confirmation that the Western powers are warning Erdogan against an invasion of Syria has now also come from the Financial Times (see “Turkey and Saudi Arabia consider Syria intervention”, Financial Times, 18th February 2016):

“The US is seeking to rein in its allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia from military action in Syria if a ceasefire planned for today in the bloody civil war fails.

Despite mounting regional frustration over Washington’s allegedly passive stance on the five-year-old conflict the Obama administration and other western powers are worried that direct military interventions could lead to an escalation of the conflict and a dangerous clash with Russia.

“Are they going to deploy troops there? Not if we can help it,” said one senior Nato diplomat.””

Each day now provides further news of advances by the Syrian army and its allies in northern Syria.

The very latest information is that the last major rebel held town in Latakia province has been recaptured by the Syrian army, and that the Syrian army is just a few kilometres away from the city of Idlib.

Slowly but surely the trap around the jihadi rebels in Aleppo is closing.

Meanwhile – whether because of warnings from Moscow or Washington or for some other reason – the Turks and the Saudis have so far not matched their rhetoric with action.


The much discussed Saudi aircraft deployment to the US airbase at Incirlik has turned out to be much smaller than initially reported, and may not actually have taken place.

The Turks are publicly sticking to their position that they will not send their troops into Syria unilaterally – which could be taken to mean they will not invade Syria unless they have US agreement and unless the US contributes ground troops to the invasion force.

Turkish action so far has been limited to cross-border shelling of Kurdish forces near Azaz and demands the Kurds stay away from Azaz, which is near the Turkish border and which the Turks say they want to make part of a buffer zone.

Even these moves have been too much for some of Turkey’s NATO allies, provoking criticism by some NATO states of Turkey for its shelling of the Kurds, though claims the UN Security Council has passed a Resolution condemning Turkey’s actions are untrue.

Interestingly the Western powers seem reluctant to endorse Turkey’s claims the Kurds of Iraq and Syria – as opposed to the Kurds of Turkey – were behind Wednesday’s terrorist attack on a military convoy in Ankara (see this discussion here), whilst Turkey’s response to the attack was to bomb Kurdish targets in Iraq rather than in Syria.

The situation is still very tense and it is premature to say that the crisis – if one exists – is past.

Whether because of Russian threats to use nuclear weapons or because of calls of restraint from the West and possibly from his own military or for some other reason, the signs for the moment however point to Erdogan backing off.

With every day that passes without a Turkish ground invasion the prospects of it happening grow less. The next few weeks should decide the issue.



Intensifying Conflict


Since Russia became a party to the war in Syria at the end of September, there has been a significant risk of open confrontation between Moscow and Ankara. Russia has thrown its support behind the troops loyal to Syria’s unscrupulous dictator Bashar Assad while Turkey is supporting the rebels who would like to topple his autocracy.


The conflict intensified at the end of November when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane and now Putin has forged an alliance with the Syrian Kurds, Erdogan’s archenemies. The Turkish president holds the Syrian Kurds responsible for the attack on Wednesday in the Turkish capital, which saw an explosion in central Ankara kill 28 and wound 61. Syrian Kurds have denied responsibility, but the bombing has ratcheted up tensions between Ankara and Moscow even further.


The NATO alliance is not always united, but in this case, nobody is interested in an escalation. How, though, can it be prevented? Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan both have few scruples when it comes to wielding power and the two have previously demonstrated that they are more than willing to use force against their own people in an emergency. Both have likewise experienced the frustration of failed rapprochement with the West. How rational are they? How far might they go?


Turkey too has done its part in recent weeks to ratchet up the escalation. Turkish troops are now firing artillery across the border at Kurds in Syria and Ankara has also been thinking out loud about possibly sending ground troops into Syria to take on the Kurds.


That would be a nightmare for the West: Direct fighting between the Kurds and the Turks could mean that Russian troops would be soon to follow. What, though, would happen were a NATO member state to fire at Russian soldiers? Officials in the Chancellery hope that the alliance wouldn’t be directly called on to get involved, as long as the fighting was limited to Syrian territory.


But German Chancellor Merkel is concerned that Putin is doing what he can to provoke Turkey as a way to test NATO. Which is why the German chancellor wants to do all she can to prevent Ankara from realizing its threat to send ground troops into Turkey. “That would likely be tantamount to doing Russia a favor,” says one Chancellery official.


Putin’s ‘Hybrid War’


Putin’s aim, the official says, is that of driving a wedge into NATO and destabilizing the alliance. A military federation that openly debates whether or not to support one of its members would quickly lose its credibility — and that would be a significant triumph for Putin, the official says.


Russia has shown no signs of letting up, either. At the end of January, Turkey reported that a Russian jet had once again violated its airspace. It’s a pattern that NATO is familiar with from the Baltic countries, where Russia likewise engaged in a series of pinprick provocations. In Berlin, officials have begun talking of “Putin’s hybrid war against Turkey.”


One element in that conflict is the economic sanctions that Putin slapped on Ankara after the Russian jet was shot down. That is also when he began supporting the Kurds. “That is Turkey’s Achilles heel,” says Moscow military analyst Vladislav Shurygin. “By helping the Kurds, we unsettle Turkey to such a degree that it can think of nothing else.”


The confrontation is also taking place against the backdrop of a personal feud between Putin and Erdogan. The two used to be friendly with one another, but sources in Moscow say that Putin felt deeply and personally betrayed by Erdogan following the shooting down of the Russian plane. Erdogan sought several times to personally apologize to Putin, but that wasn’t enough for the Russian president. He wants Erdogan to make a public display of contrition.


In an effort to prevent further escalation, NATO has made it exceedingly clear to the Turkish government that it cannot count on alliance support should the conflict with Russia head up as a result of a Turkish attack. “NATO cannot allow itself to be pulled into a military escalation with Russia as a result of the recent tensions between Russia and Turkey,” says Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.


Should Turkey be responsible for escalation, say officials in both Berlin and Brussels, Ankara would not be able to invoke the NATO treaty. Article 4 of the alliance’s founding treaty grants member states the right to demand consultations “whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” Turkey has already invoked this article once in the Syrian conflict. The result was the stationing of German Patriot missiles on the Syrian border in eastern Turkey.


NATO Gets Nervous


The decisive article, however, is Article 5, which guarantees that an “armed attack against one or more of (the alliance members) in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” But Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Asselborn notes that “the guarantee is only valid when a member state is clearly attacked.”


Ankara was already rebuked following the shooting down of the Russian warplane, with NATO diplomats speaking of a Turkish overreaction. “We have to avoid that situations, incidents, accidents spiral out of control,” warned NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.


Berlin agrees. “We are not going to pay the price for a war started by the Turks,” says a German diplomat. Because decisions taken by the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s primary decision-making body, must always be unanimous, it is enough for a single country to exercise its veto rights, the official says. But, the official adds, it won’t get that far: there is widespread agreement with the US and most other allies that Turkey would get the cold shoulder in such a case.


Nevertheless, NATO alliance members are monitoring the Turkish-Russian confrontation with concern. There is, after all, always the risk that Russia at some point might attack Turkish positions on Turkish soil. “Were the Russians to carry out a retaliatory strike against Turkey, we would have a problem,” says a NATO official. In such a case, Turkey could very well invoke Article 5. Were the North Atlantic Council to fail to achieve unanimity, Putin would once again have split the West, the official says.


Either way, the 28-member alliance is not of a single mind when it comes to Russia. The question as to how one should approach Putin’s aggression is a matter of significant debate. Moscow’s intervention in Syria has simply intensified that discussion.


On one side are those countries that once suffered under Russian hegemony: Poland, the Czech Republic and the three Baltic countries. They are in favor of a tough line against Moscow and have been building up their militaries on NATO’s eastern border with the help of the US as a deterrent to Putin.


A second group is more pro-Russian, primarily out of individual — mostly economic — interests. That group includes Bulgaria and Rumania, but also Slovakia and Hungary. On Wednesday, for example, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán demanded an end to European sanctions against Russia. The Greek government, under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras, also leans pro-Russia.


Refraining from Provoking Putin


And then there is the special case of Paris. France is openly flirting with Moscow, with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls demonstratively praising cooperation with Russia at the Munich Security Conference. “We welcome France’s constructive role,” said Russian Prime Minister Medvedev, returning the praise.


Germany leads the group of moderate critics of Russia, but it is a group to which most other Western European countries belong. They are critical of Russia’s geopolitical ambitions but are also wary of breaking off contact to Moscow. Berlin’s role here is key. The German government sharply criticized Putin’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but has also urged that Russian concerns be taken seriously and has refrained from provoking Putin.


The dispute between the hawks and the doves within NATO primarily focuses on the arms build-up on NATO’s eastern border. At the beginning of February, the Pentagon announced that it would request €3.4 billion ($3.8 billion) for an expanded presence in Eastern Europe. The Americans plan to station equipment for an entire tank division in the region, including battle tanks, artillery and other heavy weaponry. In an emergency, a unit of 20,000 combat-ready troops from the US could quickly be deployed. In addition, a brigade is to be stationed in NATO’s east, rotating between bases.


Not coincidentally, Poland is planning a large maneuver together with the US ahead of the next NATO summit, to be held in Warsaw in July. The joint military exercise, named Anaconda, will involve 25,000 troops and 19 additional alliance members, but it is not an official NATO exercise. The Americans have pledged 90 tanks for the maneuver, which is to simulate a land invasion of Poland — a classic Article 5 scenario.


Germany isn’t particularly taken with such posturing. In the coming months, Berlin intends to do what it can to prevent the stationing of additional NATO troops or materiel in the alliance’s eastern member states. The German military is not prepared to send additional troops to the Baltic countries or to Poland.


For Berlin, it is important to avoid calling into question the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations between Russia and NATO. According to that agreement, “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” in the former Eastern Bloc is to be avoided. It is exactly this agreement, though, that new Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski declared to be “invalid” at the Munich Security Conference. The security situation, he argued, has fundamentally changed and Russia terminated the agreement on its own by virtue of its actions in Crimea.


‘Masterful Tradecraft’


Moscow, for its part, reacted immediately to the US armaments plans. Andrey Kelin, the Russian Foreign Ministry official responsible for pan-European cooperation, announced that Russia would respond by stationing three new divisions, a tank army and 50 strategic, nuclear-compatible bombers on Russia’s western border. Moscow, he said, would also equip its Caspian and Black Sea fleets with cruise missiles of the kind Russia launched into Syria from a distance of over 1,000 kilometers on Putin’s birthday.


From the perspective of power politics, officials in Berlin and elsewhere are willing to concede, Putin’s intervention in Syria has thus far been a great success. “It is masterful tradecraft,” a close Merkel advisor says admiringly. Russia, he says, not only stabilized the regime of its ally Assad, but has also done everything in its power to make the situation more difficult for the West.


Chancellery officials believe that Putin is deliberately trying to trigger a new wave of refugees to further divide Europe. Furthermore, they believe that Putin would welcome a further evaporation of support for Merkel among the German electorate.


The chancellor has promised to solve the refugee crisis together with Turkey. The country is to ensure that refugees can no longer stream into Greece across the Aegean. But the more people escape the violence of Syria into Turkey, the less inclined Ankara is to tighten up its western border to Greece. Erdogan already has enough problems. Why should he expend even more effort to help Merkel?


The chancellor is doing her best to entice the Turkish government with pledges of money and an easing of visa requirements. But she now finds herself in the dilemma of being unable to offer Turkey assistance in its conflict with Russia even as she needs Ankara’s help. Knowing both Putin and Erdogan as she does, she is aware that neither is exactly a model of equanimity. She is extremely wary of encouraging Erdogan in any way to start something with Russia.


Using NATO to Pressure Turkey


That’s what makes the situation so complicated. Thus far, when addressing the need to tighten the maritime border in the Aegean, Turkey has talked a lot but done little. Which is why Merkel brought in NATO to patrol the border between Turkey and Greece. Officially, the alliance has been charged with providing surveillance and combatting migrant smugglers. In reality, though, the presence of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 is to increase pressure on Turkey by making it impossible for government officials to continue claiming they don’t know where on the coast the refugee boats were launching

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: