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Turkish Gambit

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Turkish Gambit

Original by Andrey Vadzhra published at ukraina.ru; translated from Russian by J.Hawk

It is a mystery, from the commonsensical point of view, why the Turks so demonstratively shot down a Russian aircraft. It is impossible to understand what they were planning and what advantage they hoped to gain. The Russian bomber posed no threat to Turkey even if, as Ankara claims, it flew for 17 seconds over Turkey. That is no reason to shoot it down. Turkish fighters would not have been able to react quickly enough to shoot down a violator. It all points to the fact the Su-24 was being “stalked” in order to be attacked, which means it wasn’t shot down over security concerns. The reason was political, and the shoot-down was planned. So it’s only natural the process of Su-24’s destruction was professionally filmed by journalists who showed up at the right spot at the right time, and the shooting of the Russian pilots descending on parachutes was commanded by a Turkish citizen.

Such things cannot be forgiven. Turkey de-facto attacked Russia. Possibly without realizing it. Such things are punishable. Harshly,with maximum pain and suffering. But there will be no declaration of war. There is no need. There is a cause, but no reason to start a war with Turkey. Russia doesn’t need war. But from now on Russia will view Turkey as an enemy. And act accordingly.

The whole Su-24 incident looks like a planned provocation. One can assume Turkey wanted to use it in its political games. While someone else was planning to use Turkey. Therefore everything turned out not as Ankara had planned. “The magician was drunk, so the trick failed.” Instead of complicating Russia’s position in the Syria conflict, Turkey’s actions only united its hands and exposed it to attack from various directions. Before the Su-24 attack, Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) had to operate with the “Turkish factor” in mind. There are enclaves under Turkish control in Syria’s border areas. The armed formations based there are mainly the so-called Syrian Turkomen who have been fighting against Syria’s government since 2012. They have been are remain Turkey’s main military and political instrument in Syria. Turkey has put its stake on them when it started to push its “buffer zone” plan. It is using the buffer zone as a cover for its intervention. These territories are Turkey’s unofficial sphere of influence. Nearly all islamist formations there are directly dependent on Ankara and take orders from Ankara. That’s a known fact. Not often mentioned but always kept in one’s mind. Including Russia’s. In order to prevent the worsening of relations with Turkey, Russian aircraft were bombing on the “we don’t touch you, you don’t touch us” principle. This made the preservation of the balance of interests possible. But then suddenly Turkish fighters shoot down a Russian bomber and violate the balance.

Which raises the question: why did Ankara purposefully, consciously, and demonstratively entered a confrontation with Moscow? What purpose was it pursuing? First of all, one can assume the incident was an act of intimidation in order to ensure Turkish zone’s inviolability. However, the whole notion that Russia can be compelled using such tactics to back off its own military-political plans is fundamentally flawed. That’s obvious enough. The Su-24 shoot-down could not have caused anything other than a harsh Russian reaction. Which we are observing right now. According to Syrian media, Russian VKS launched massed aerial bombing of the area where the Russian rescue helicopter was brought down, and from where the Russian crew was evacuated following a firefight.  All places which were one way or another identified as potential Turkoman bases were wiped from the face of the Earth. Turkey’s opinion is no longer taken into account. On November 25 videos appeared of a column of destroyed trucks of unknown origin which arrived from Turkey into the Syrian city of Aazaz. Which is controlled by the Turks. Aazaz is a Turkish logistic base which receives weapons, ammunition, medicine, fuel, equipment, etc. from Turkey and then ships it further into the country. Even Turkish media acknowledge that. In May 2015, the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet [Republic] published photos of Turkish trucks and wrote they carried weapons and ammunition for militants fighting against Syrian government army. According to the journalists, the photos were made in January 2014.  At that time, local authorities stopped and searched the trucks heading for Syria and got into conflict with Turkish intelligence officers. The paper claimed the photos were proof of Ankara’s secret supplies of weapons to Syrian terrorists. What did Erdogan do in response? He was not overly concerned. He simply ordered the arrest of the paper’s editor Dzhan Dyundar [???] for treason. He requested life imprisonment for them. As you recall, Erdogan promised to go into retirement if proof appeared of his support of terrorists. And here was proof. Therefore the owner of the destroyed truck column preferred to remain anonymous. There were trucks, but God knows who they belonged to. There are also no official statements on who destroyed the Turkish convoy. Something flew over, something blew up and everything caught fire. But nobody knows who did it. One can assume that the destruction of the column is the prelude to a full-scale bomb/missile scouring of the entire border zone which is, one way or another, controlled by the Turks. There is no doubt that targets will include transport infrastructure established by the Turks to supply the Islamists, and that the Russian VKS will pay particular attention to everything that’s somehow the product of Turkey’s presence in Syria. For Russia, it’s no longer a simple question of expediency but also a matter of honor and principle.

Can Turkey oppose it? It’s hardly up to the task. It’s air superiority is easily countered by Russian air defenses. Turkish airpower is helpless against S-300 and especially S-400 systems. There would be little need to use Russian fighters to shoot down Turkish aircraft in Syrian airspace. It can be done by the already deployed SAMs which, if one is to believe Turkish media, monitor Turkish airspace. So now no Turkish aircraft will cross the border or even approach it. Ankara understands perfectly well Russia is ready to strike. Strike without warning and without care. The Turks will not risk entering into an air war against Russia. Because they have no chance of winning it. As the old saying goes, “nobody’s clever against a tire iron.” Especially when the tire iron is the S-400. No matter how many aircraft the Turks have, Russia has two-three missiles for each of them. Ankara understands this. Turkish paper Hurriyet wrote that Turkish government stopped its military flights over Syria. Apparently highly worried, Erdogan hurried to tell CNN that if a Turkish aircraft is shot down by the S-400 over Syria, he would consider it an act of aggression. In his view, it would be “aggression against our sovereignty” (!). He is understandably worried. But it’s hard to what Syria’s territory has to do with Turkey’s sovereignty. Still, Ankara clearly realized that from now on its aircraft can’t fly there. Hence Turkey’s GenStaff hurried statement that it’s taking measures to prevent incidents between Russian and Turkish forces. It sounds like “we know we made a mistake and are ready to make amends because friendship and peace are most important!”. But the future of that friendship is still unclear since Russian aircraft, under the eyes of helpless Turks, is cleansing the entire border area. Which France fully supports. It seems that sooner or later the whole Syria-Turkey border will be closed. This can have fatal consequences for the Islamist organizations. There is little doubt Russian SAM radars will closely track Turkish aircraft. Woe unto any which stray into Syria.

It would appear that the incident was supposed to be followed by some form of collective response by Turkey’s allies. Erdogan’s behavior suggested as much. But something didn’t come together. There’s a sense Turkey’s leader was dumped. Dumped in apparent hope to spoil relations between Moscow and Ankara. After the Su-24 incident Erdogan instantly found himself in a political vacuum. His rush toward NATO brought him nothing. As did the NATO emergency session. NATO GenSec Stoltenberg issued the usual statement on solidarity and support for Turkey’s territorial integrity, but categorically refused to discuss the incident’s details. He did not even say who was the guilty party or issue warnings to Russia. Instead he recommended “further contacts between Moscow and Ankara” and emphasized the importance of “calm and de-escalation.”

Obama helpfully mentioned that “Turkey, like all countries, have full right to defend their airspace and territory,” but did not say a word about how Turkey’s faithful NATO allies will rush to its aid. The allies got cold feet. In the end Turkey was left one on one against Russia. Nobody wanted to endorse its actions. These are the strange but logical facts of NATO life. But Erdogan is afraid of being one on one with Putin. It would seem Erdogan did not sign up for that. Hence the sadness, confusion, and sudden peaceloving instincts of the Turkish president who, it turns out, is ready to forgive and forget. Well, we shot down an aircraft. And killed a pilot. So what? Who hasn’t done that? Is it really a reason to take offense and issue apologies. We’ll pretend nothing happened. “Turkey absolutely did not wish for an incident such as this one but, unfortunately, it happened. But we don’t view it as a reason for tensions. Our countries ought to shake hands and continue cooperating,” the Turkish president believes.
Erdogan’s public surprise at Moscow’s harsh reaction and his desire to preserve strategic partnership with Moscow without apologizing before it appears not only strange but downright inappropriate. By all appearances, Erdogan is trying to change the topic and shift into reverse without losing face. But it’s not happening. Hence his intense desire to meet with Putin. As Erdogan recently said, “I requested a meeting with the Russian head of state Putin in Paris on November 30, but did not receive an answer.” And it’s doubtful he’ll receive one. In the near future, at any rate. Western media were critical if not downright frightened. There was no exultation over the downing of the Russian aircraft. There were instead measured comments on Turkey’s excessive defensive actions on one hand, and accusations on “conscious provocation,” the Turks’ “serious mistake,” and their “unpredictability.” Some journalists said Turkey was a member of NATO “in name, not in deed.” Judging by European press reports, many there believe Ankara deliberately tried to draw Russia into conflict with NATO and destroy the emerging anti-ISIS coalition. Given the widespread suspicion of Turkey, the Fox News expert and former USAF Deputy Chief of Staff Tom McInerney really stood out when he said that “it could have been a deliberate provocation by Erdogan. You know, Turkey used to be a secular state but he led the country toward becoming an Islamic society with Sharia law and all the rest. And therefore I believe he has his secret plans, He would not have been opposed to the idea of Russia and NATO entering into a new conflict, as over Ukraine. A conflict which we don’t need.  Then what is happening in the region would drop from the field of attention of the international community.”
Even Poland’s Obserwator Polityczny newspaper could not help making a sharp comment when it wrote that for Ankara and Washington shooting down aircraft over the territory of another country is not a problem. “We have such international standards right now that we should not be surprised if suddenly Russians in Kaliningrad shoot down a NATO aircraft after its provocation near Kaliningrad. The aircraft will fall on Polish or Lithuanian territory or into international waters. And there will be nothing wrong with that, this is permissible, because every country has the right to defend its territory.” European politicians are also not elated. They never particularly loved the Turks. It’s no accident Turkey has been knocking on EUs door for decades.  Now the Europeans can no longer hide their ill-concealed enmity toward the Turks. After the recent Paris attacks, Europe needs a military alliance with Russia against ISIS and not a military confrontation between a NATO member and Moscow. Moreover, Europe is irritated by the unofficial cooperation between Turkish elite and leaders of ISIS. Everyone knows that ISIS sells oil and that the oil reaches the world market through Turkey’s territory. Likewise it’s no secret to anyone in Europe that Turkish secret services openly support terrorist organizations and islamists not only freely traverse Turkey’s territory but even receive medical care and training there. While the West used to turn an embarrassed blind eye on all that, now that taboo has been lifted and the problem of the unofficial Turkey-ISIS cooperation is on the international agenda. The fact of Turkey having an interest in the existence, strengthening, and expansion became obvious to many in the West after the Su-24 incident.
Naturally, that’s unacceptable to the US and EU. It would seem that the cozy Turkey-ISIS relationship is too much even for Washington. Wall Street Journal allowed itself to quote a US administration official who plainly said that “there is a global threat originating in Syria and crossing Turkey’s territory.” WSJ explained that the US is trying to get Ankara to place additional forces on the border with Syria in order to interdict ISIS militant movements. From Washington’s point of view, “one must close a 100km sector which ISIS uses to transit foreign fighters into and out of the war zone.” WSJ emphasized that “US officials warned Ankara that it might face a “serious response” from EU if Turkey can’t close its border.” There is no doubt that the Turkey-ISIS dirty laundry will continue to be aired. That topic is too important right now for the EU. This means that Ankara could find itself isolated in the near future. There is also no doubt that Russia will facilitate that isolation. Cutting off ISIS from an ally as important as Turkey is a strategic task.
In addition to the highly negative military and political consequences, Turkey will also face financial and economic ones. Russia will cut economic ties with Turkey in all possible ways. Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev said that “the government was tasked with developing a set of economic and humanitarian measures in reaction to the act of aggression.” The measures are not an embargo and no sanctions, but rather natural monitoring given the rise of extremism and unpredictability, said Dmitry Peskov.   Nevertheless, these measures will not only be instant, but also long-lasting. Moreover, the Minister of Economic Development Aleksey Ulyukayev said that the economic restrictions will be fully WTO-compatible. One should expect, at the minimum, the freezing of Russia’s major investment projects in Turkey, ending energy cooperation, limiting Turkish firms’ operations in Russia, and closing Russia’s markets to Turkish goods. Russia is already shutting down tourism collaboration with Turkey. After the Rosturizm recommendation to stop selling tour tickets to Turkey, all Russian tourist firms stopped issuing tickets. Charter flight contracts will be re-evaluated in the near future. Once the scheduled flights are completed and remaining Russian tourists return from Turkey, the charters will be cancelled. Will the “tourism war” seriously harm Turkey? Judge for yourselves. In 2014 alone, some 4.5 million Russians visited Turkey, the second largest group of tourists. Moreover, tourism is a major component of Turkey’s economy, bringing it $35 billion a year. Overall, the economic and financial measures which Russia could adopt against Turkey are capable of costing it hundreds of millions of dollars. At that rate, the shot down Russian aircraft cost the Turks its weight in gold many times over. Erdogan realizes that. The situation unfolding around the Su-24 incident reminds one of a chess gambit, a geopolitical debut in which Russia used the loss of its aircraft to gain a strategic advantage over its adversary. Having “taken” the Russian bomber, Turkey found itself in a very difficult situation and will be forced to abandon its positions in the next moves in order to extricate itself out of the situation into which it entered with as minimal losses as possible.

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