28 November 2015

Is Putin Pulling Erdogan Into a Trap?

In my previous post I said that I did not expect a military confrontation between Russia and Turkey over the downed Russian aircraft.

Since then a couple of new developments made me think of a perverse scenario.

See what you think of it.

After the war or words between Putin and Erdogan, the first thing Russia did was to beef up its aircraft defenses.
Russia has strengthened its anti-aircraft defences in Syria by moving a cruiser towards the coast and deploying new missiles at its main base. 
The Moskva cruiser's long-range air defence system will provide cover for Russian aircraft, as will the S-400 missiles which arrived on Thursday.
S-400 is a mobile and highly effective system. If it is used as designed, it will shoot down any threat within its designated area.

Erdogan reacted to this by declaring that if one of Turkish aircrafts were downed inside Syrian airspace he would consider this an act of war and react accordingly. That is to say, Erdogan has just committed Turkey to declare war to Russia if they targeted Turkish jets that might operate inside another country's sovereign airspace.

A Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov called this absolute madness.
The President of Turkey made a statement in which he said that if the Turkish aircraft is shot down over the territory of Syria, it will be considered an act of aggression. How, then, to qualify what happened with the Russian plane ?
There is more to that story.

A month ago. Erdogan stated that Turkey will not allow YPG, the military arm of Syrian Kurds, to cross to the west of Euphrates.  And he added that Turkey would continue to hit YPG forces to prevent that from happening.
Turkish jets recently hit the Syrian Kurds' armed People's Protection Units (YPG) targets twice after they defied Ankara and crossed west of the Euphrates River.

"This was a warning. 'Pull yourself together. If you try to do this elsewhere - Turkey doesn't need permission from anyone - we will do what is necessary,'" Erdogan said, signaling he could defy Washington's demand that Ankara avoid hitting Syrian Kurds and focus its military might on Islamic State targets.
At the time YPG forces were advancing with American air cover. I explained here the relevance of Kurdish move in that area.  This is the map showing the significance of the region west of Euphrates.

From Kobani you will remember that the Kurdish region is to the East of Euphrates. If they move to the West they will cut off the Sunni groups and especially ISIS from the Turkish border.

Which means goodbye Sunni Pipelineistan for Qatar and Turkey and goodbye easy supplies and the steady stream of gun-fodder idiots for ISIS.

Now there are reports that Russia provides air cover to YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who are fighting Al Qaeda affiliated Sunni militia north of Aleppo.

Take a look at the map and check out how that blocks the Turkish border.

Since the US backs both YPG and SDF and wants Al Qaeda affiliated groups like al-Nusrah Front to be destroyed, Russian actions are in line with the objectives of the anti-ISIS coalition. There is nothing to object to what they are doing since the US was doing the same thing a few months ago.

There is a final wrinkle to all this.

Der Spiegel reported that Russia has now 2,000 troops on the ground and according to a Kuwaiti publication, they are providing cover to Russian-operated T-90 tanks around Aleppo and Idlib.
A few days ago, the Kuwaiti daily ‘Al Rai‘ reported that Russian ground troops have been providing cover for T-90 tanks which have attacked Idlib and Latakia. According to the report Russian troops have taken over strategic positions. (Jerusalem Post, Nov 23)
These tanks are used by the Russian Armed Forces and were not exported to Syria.

A senior official was quoted in the Kuwaiti report: “Russian live maneuver required the use of 130 mm artillery battalion backed by a heavy air bombardment to the hill before the advance of the infantry as a test of the troops’ readiness and to raise the efficiency of engagement of the Russian forces in further battles on the Syrian soil.” (ValueWalk, Nov 24)
This, apparently, is the picture of troops belonging to 120th artillery brigade (normally stationed in Siberia) operating Mbsta-B 152mm howitzers around Hom.

Let me recap this setup for you.

Turkey downs a Russian aircraft because it violated its sovereign airspace for 17 seconds.

Turkish President refuses to apologize and NATO says that Turkey has the right to defend its borders.

Russia installs a highly effective anti-aircraft missile system inside Syria capable of shooting down any aircraft that strays into the airspace it is protecting.

Then it begins providing air cover to Kurdish forces in Syria fighting Islamist terrorists and particularly ISIS.

Russian actions are coordinated with the Americans and have their backing.

Erdogan is faced with a situation which de facto cuts off Sunni forces from Turkey, ends the Pipelineistan dreams and strengthens Kurdish hand.

And he had already committed himself to striking Kurdish forces if that happens.

Given this setup, what do you think he might do? Or could do?

If he strikes and Turkish planes are shut down, how likely is it for NATO to declare war to Russia over Turkish invasion of a sovereign airspace?

Especially after it backed Turkish actions over exactly the same scenario.

Plus, NATO is not at war with Syria and Russia's presence in Syria is not any different from American or French presence.

What would be the justification?

If Erdogan does not strike Kurdish forces, Russia will succeed in propping up Assad and his Alewistan along the Mediterranean coast.

Putin will become the kingmaker in the region.

Kurds will be a step closer to regional autonomy in Syria.

Erdogan's Sunni Pipelineistan dreams will go up in smoke.

And perhaps most importantly, his tough guy image in Turkey will be shattered.

You see, he will have been eyeball to eyeball with Putin and he will have blinked.

I am sure you remember the expression.

I have no idea if Putin devised such a strategy.

But if he did, I am thinking, maybe he doesn't even have to spill the family secrets.

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