09 February 2016

Putin Is Pulling Erdogan into a Trap

In a recent post, I suggested that Russian strongman Vladimir Putin might be pulling his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan into a well-designed trap.

It now looks like my suggestion was prescient. Putin seems to have put together a comprehensive plan to draw Erdogan into a fight he cannot win. Or worse, to turn him into an impotent spectator.

Let me start with the Turkmens.

Everyone knows that a war of proxy is being fought in Syria. Turkey's avatar, if you will, has been the Turkmen minority. They are ethnic cousins, they dislike Kurds and they sympathize with ISIS and al Nusra front.

Check, check and check.

Since November, Russian jets have been attacking them relentlessly.
Following the downing of its jet, Russia intensified its air campaign, particularly against the Turkmens, but also against radical Islamic groups supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that are fighting the Syrian army.

Russia has a particular ax to grind with the Turkmens because it was their fighters who killed the Russian pilot in his parachute after he ejected from the Su-24. 
As a result,  the group seen as Turkey's most reliable ally in Syria began to leave its region and seek shelter in Turkey.

Then there is ISIS and al Nusra Front.

Russia has been pounding ISIS and other Islamist groups around the clock in the last three months. In mid-December, CNN reported that in one 24 hour cycle there were "fifty-nine combat missions. Two hundred and twelve targets struck. Three hundred and twenty ISIS militants killed. And more than 100 oil facilities destroyed."

Largely as a result of this campaign, the number of ISIS fighters has dwindled considerably, according to the White House.
The latest assessment about the number of fighters who are fighting on behalf of ISIL in Iraq and in Syria was -- based on an earlier assessment -- was up to 31,500 fighters in that region of the world.  There’s a new assessment from our intelligence community that indicates that that number is now up to about 25,000 fighters. 
As I wrote many times before, Turkey has been spearheading the Sunni coalition promoting radical Sunni groups in Syria to establish what I termed Pipelineistan, a conservative Sunni state that would allow Qatari natural gas to reach Europe through Turkey to the great consternation of Russia, the sole current supplier.

Putin's third move was to provide support to Syrian Kurds. As you might know, PYD, the political organization of Syrian Kurds, is an offshoot of Turkey's PKK. They also happened to have the only ground force in Syria capable of fighting ISIS, which is called YPG or People's Protection Units.
Meanwhile, the Turkish media is reporting that Russia had started to provide air support to the PYD’s military wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), west of the Euphrates River. This is bound to further fuel tensions between Ankara and Moscow.

Worried that the Syrian Kurds will gain an autonomous region along its border with Syria, Ankara has declared a PYD/YPG presence west of the Euphrates to be a red line. But what can Turkey do to stop this and the Syrian advances in northern Syria with Russian help? 
In fact, both the US and Russia have been courting PYD and its armed wing for some time now. But Putin tried to show off a bit more.
Escalating tension between Russia and Turkey will reach a new high when the Democratic Union party (PYD), the leading Kurdish political organisation in north-eastern Syria, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group, opens a representative office in Moscow on Wednesday at Vladimir Putin’s personal invitation.
Having removed Turkey's proxy from the Syrian theater, dealt a significant blow to its Islamist allies and bolstered its bĂȘte-noir what did Putin do?

Well, he deployed the most sophisticated Russian fighter jets and asked them to patrol the Turkish border all day long.

You know, in case Erdogan feels like challenging him.

The planes in question are Su-34 and Su-35.

By the way, this is the Su-34's first combat mission outside Russia and it is a very capable fighter jet.
Unlike the Fencer, the Su-34—taking full advantage of its Flanker lineage—is provisioned with a formidable air-to-air self-defense capability. In addition to short-range R-73 high off-boresight dogfighting missiles, the Su-34 carries the long-range radar-guided R-77 air-to-air missile. That means like its nearest Western equivalent, the Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle, the Fullback able to conduct “self-escorted” strike missions.
Notice the dogfighting arsenal and air-to-air combat missiles.

Then there is the ultra-maneuverable and sophisticated Su-35 Flanker, which was just shown to the world a few months ago.

According to a Turkish military analyst, Ret. Brig. Gen. Naim Barburoglu, these jets "are far more advanced than Turkey’s F-16s.”
“Unlike the Su-24, which only has air-to-ground capabilities, these jets have air-to-ground as well as air-to-air capabilities and are supported by the most advanced radar technology,” he added.
“Since the downing of the Russian jet, Turkish F-16s are unable to fly in Syrian airspace. The US doesn’t want them there either in case they confront Russian jets,” Baburoglu said. He pointed out that the Russian Su-35 Flanker-E type jets deployed in the region, which are far more advanced than anything Turkey has, is of concern to Washington.
There is more.

When Putin realized that Ankara was reticent to challenge Russian Air Force, he ordered them to violate Turkish air space. They did it twice so far and drew only loud protests from Turkey.The Russian ambassador was summoned and a formal protest was lodged.

Tellingly, the Turkish claim was carefully worded to ask Russia to respect NATO airspace, clearly hinting that it intends to get NATO involved in case of an escalation. But the Russian Ministry of Defense shrugged it off, calling the Turkish claim "pure propaganda."

That is because they are aware that NATO decisions are taken unanimously and it is extremely unlikely that Greece or France would vote to go to war over Erdogan's hostile acts like downing a plane over a 17 second airspace violation.

Let me make a safe prediction.

This will not end well.

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