Original by Ekaterina Zgirovskaya and Pavel Kotlyar published by gazeta.ru; translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Having blamed Russia of violating its airspace, Ankara allowed its pilots to shoot down foreign aircraft without prior clearance. In the meantime, Russia is preparing to fly its aircraft over Turkey on a planned observation mission.
Ankara’s most recent accusation leveled at Russia, that its Su-34 violated Turkish border, launched another round of the political stand-off between Turkey and Russia. After Turkey’s president Erdogan expressed his desire to meet with Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s PM Akhmet Davutoglu instructed the MFA to ask Russia to explain itself to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“It’s important that NATO assumed the leading role and made an announcement to the effect that any Turkish airspace violation represents a NATO airspace violation. That’s how we and our president assess the situation. NATO’s position on this matter does not satisfy us. We have instructed our MFA to ask Russia to explain this violation to NATO’s Secretary General”, Davutoglu said.
In his view, the violation supposedly took place between the Syrian cities of Mare and Jarablus, where the Coalition forces are attempting to clear area of Islamic State presence.
After leveling the violation accusation, Ankara announced it was introducing a heightened, “orange” alert level for its air force. It is in effect in all the country’s airbases. It requires pilots to be constantly ready to engage in air combat.
It also gives them the right to shoot down aircraft which unlawfully entered Turkey’s airspace without requiring a separate order.
Experts note that it’s the first time this level of alert was introduced since mid-December, when Turkish aircraft were bombarding positions in Turkey itself and in northern Iraq. Moreover, it was reported that several F-16s were transferred to the Diyarbakir airbase to increase its combat power.
The former VVS commanding general, Hero of Russia Army General Pyotr Deynekin told gazeta.ru that Turkish accusations are nothing more than another political provocation aimed at Russia. “Introducing the ‘orange’ alert, or increased readiness for battle, in the air force, is little more than a cheap trick intended to shore up Turkey’s position. Last November they did not need any readiness alerts in order to shoot-down, in a treacherous, bandit manner, our Su-24 tactical bomber. Nobody is about to attack Turkey so there’s no need to raise alert level, it’s not dictated by military considerations,” Deynekin believes.
According to the general, all armies have a number of alert levels to properly respond to a variety of threats: you start at “permanent” level, then you raise it to “heightened” if the international situation deteriorates, when all forces and assets increase its readiness to use force.
He also reminded that during the Cold War, Soviet military often had to respond in kind to NATO’s heightened alert levels, especially concerning the air defense forces. “We conducted hundreds of flights in remote regions of the world where, as a rule, we were accompanied by US or NATO fighters–that was considered perfectly normal. We were frequently accused of violating airspace. It’s not an event meriting an international scandal. It could be resolved by a diplomatic note instead of raising alert levels and escalating the already tense situation,” Deynekin believes.
He’s also certain that, in spite of the orange alert, “no Turkish pilot would even shoot down migratory geese without an order. All of this is simply a tactless political attack on Russia driven by Turkey’s economic interests,” Deynekin added.
Military expert Viktor Murakhovskiy reminds that the Turkish pilot who in November shot down the Su-24 with a missile did so without any prior hints or raising threat levels.
“Their orange alert corresponds to what we call ‘danger of war’. It’s the pre-war condition. There is the permanent combat readiness in peacetime, there is heightened readiness, danger of war, and war. So this is the pre-war state,” Murakhovskiy stated.
“But judging by the measures they are undertaking, their status is ‘lighter” than ours. They are not calling up reservists, not deploying additional formations, not bringing up air defense weapons to their firing positions, it’s mainly a psychological factor,” he added. In his view, Turkey’s military will not be held at that level for more than a few days. Such round-the-clock alert is expensive in terms of human and equipment resources. “It cannot be maintained for a long time,” he added.
Incidentally, Russia is about to carry out an observation flight over Turkey during the heightened alert condition, in accordance with the Open Skies Treaty. It was signed in 1992 in Helsinki by 27 member states of OSCE. It is one of the post-Cold War confidence-building measures. As a rule, Russia and NATO carry them out on a reciprocal basis. The treaty currently has 34 parties. In accordance with the rules introduced in 2006, Turkey can carry out 4 flights a year over Russia, and Russia can fly over Turkey on average twice a year.
The first 2016 flight by a Russian An-30B will take place between January 1 and 5, with Turkish representatives present on board. The airplane should arrive at Istanbul on February 2. While the Russians are in Turkey, they will be accompanied by four Turkish General Staff members.
The most recent flight over Turkey was on December 14-18, 2015. The December flight was moved from February, following Turkey’s request after accusations it violated Turkish airspace.
Murakhovskiy does not expect that the growing tension in relations with Ankara will lead to flight cancellation.