WILL TURKEY START A WAR WITH RUSSIA?
Below is our translation of an insightful interview from Komsomolskaya Pravda with a Russian expert on the Middle East. Commentary and notes [in brackets] are by Vince Dhimos. (When have you last read the opinion of a Western journo or pol who actually knew something about his subject matter?).
Here is an excerpt from the Russian language site refworld.org:
Russian conspiracy theorists even argue that Western forces are helping to fuel unrest in the region. In the more extreme iteration of this theory, some Russians claim that the CIA is supporting the Islamic State in order to hurt Russia.
Russian commentator Alexander Sobyanin told Moscow's Nezavisimaya Gazeta on October 21 that Central Asian militants are sponsored by American intelligence. The United States, he argued, wants to foment instability in Central Asia to convince local regimes to permit Washington to build new bases in the region. It is also noteworthy that the newspaper article's author, Viktoria Panfilova, has long prophesied an Islamist takeover in Central Asia.
Russia maintains a military presence in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and, until 2005, Russian forces stood guard over the porous Tajik-Afghan border. Moscow seeks to return to those good old days. Russian lawmaker Semyon Bagdasarov [the interviewee in our translation below] -- director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Central Asia - for example, has repeatedly used hints of instability to explain why Russian border guards should return to the Afghan frontier with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. A Russian military presence in the region, according to this logic, is essential to maintaining security.
Bagdasarov cautioned in an interview broadcast on radio station Vesti FM in September that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan would work with the Islamic State to overthrow Central Asian regimes, beginning with Turkmenistan.
Semyon Bagdasarov: The Russian Su-24s will not be shot down over Idlib by our S-400s delivered to Turkey – definitely not before April
Bagdasarov, the Director of the Centre for the Study of the Middle East and Central Asia commented to Komsomolskaya Pravda on the sharp deterioration of the situation on the border between Turkey and Syria.
Turkey stated that 33 Turkish troops were killed and 32 injured in air strikes by Syrian government forces in Idlib province. The Russian Defence Ministry said that according to official figures, Turkish regular units should not be in the affected area. UN Secretary General Gutierrez called on the parties to the conflict to cease fire immediately.
For comments, we turned to one of the most serious experts on the Middle East, Reserve Colonel and former State Duma [Russian legislative body] deputy Semyon Bagdasarov.
- Has Turkey’s on Syria begun?
- I have long said it was necessary to show that all these games with Turkey are a temporary phenomenon. Erdoğan proceeds from principles that he spoke about loudly more than once. He stated that the regime must change in Syria, and that Assad must be overthrown. He said that by 2023, Northern Syria and Northern Iraq should belong to Turkey. This imperial principle. Which he carries out. He’s obsessed with Aleppo. The fact that he was given the opportunity to occupy Aazaz, Jerabulus and, especially, Afrin - only spurred him on. The fact that they indulged him regarding the situation in northeast Syria on the Turkish-Syrian border also spurred him on. He skilfully manoeuvred between Washington and Moscow. And he achieved a lot.
- Did Ankara ask the NATO leadership for assistance?
“Well, that scares us all the time.” Unfortunately, those who are involved in the Turkish direction miscalculated. Why talk about individual pro-Turkish militant formations? After all, they’re all pro-Turkish there! Ammunition, weapons, spare parts, fuel - they get all that from the Turkish territory. I repeat, the goal of Erdoğan is Aleppo.
- Our Ministry of Defence stated that the dead Turkish soldiers were not part of the regular Turkish army, but as part of the groups that Assad is fighting ...
- That’s right! You haven’t forgotten when they shot down the Su-25? From which MANPADS they shot it down, along what flight path they shot it down – and who knew about it? Does everyone remember the downed Su-24, our downed helicopter? Which was struck by a pro-Turkish formation named after the emir of Aleppo. We were silent, pretending that everything was fine. [Bagdasarov, who belongs to a different political party from Putin, is criticizing the Russian leadership, including the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, even Putin! It is quite understandable. Putin seems to have trusted Erdoğan too much. On the other hand, Putin is a master of human relations. Maybe he can bring Erdoğan around.]
And who killed four of our FSB officers? They were blown up by a mine, and then shot. And we all think we’ll calm them down? And this is what it’s come to.
- The UN Secretary General calls for a ceasefire in Idlib, our Foreign Ministry calls for compliance with the Sochi accords ...
- Yes, neither statements from the UN nor from the Foreign Ministry will lead to anything! One must be prepared for the possibility that even if a miracle happens and we reconcile with them again, this will be a temporary phenomenon. We have to think of something else.
- Like what?
- Which of our allies there can get involved? To engage not our military personnel, but intra-Syrian capabilities. The only option is the formation of the Kurdish Democratic Forces, the party of the Maghreb Union. According to the Kurds themselves, there are 75,000 of them. They are ready to deploy 30 thousand real fighters. In addition to the Kurds, there are Christians and Arabs. They propose making them a separate corps as part of the Syrian army. But for this, a special agreement must be reached between Damascus and the Kurds. The Kurds are eager to defeat pro-Turkish formations. And ready for action in Idlib. [my emphasis]
Turkey stated that 33 Turkish troops were killed and 32 injured in air strikes by Syrian government forces in Idlib province.
- What are the Turks counting on now?
- They’re counting on the fact that eventually, given the difficult events inside Iran, the Iranian formations in Idlib will be reduced. Well, yes, the Fatimids are fighting there, but they can leave at any moment. Since the assassination of Soleimani, things are difficult in Tehran – and Ankara is counting on this as well. And on the fact that we will not be transferring some of our forces. In this situation, the only real resource is the Kurdish formations.
- Is a direct clash between the Turkish military and ours [Russians] possible?
“So who’s been killing us so far?” And in all the formations with which the Syrian army is fighting, there are Turkish advisers. Instructors. Special Forces units. Before the start of these events, about 7 thousand Turkish military personnel had already been transferred to the conflict area - almost two brigades! Over two thousand armoured vehicles.
- Will our combat aircraft be involved in the conflict zone?
- Assad would like that. The Syrian army is weak. Twice as weak as the Syrian democratic forces. The primarily Shiite formations, which are tied to Iran, are fighting there. And without our help it’s all pointless.
- Russia insists on holding negotiations on Syria between all parties to the conflict in March.
- An agreement has already been reached, which has been constantly violated. If a new one is reached, it will be a miracle. And very temporary – lasting a month or two. Erdoğan is in a difficult position. He has a coalition with a nationalist party in Turkey. Sometimes when we talk about Syria, we fail to account for the development of the situation in Turkey. This is a problem - hence the weak analysis and forecasting. Turkish nationalist leaders are demanding to go to Damascus. Will Erdoğan give in? And remember who won the elections in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir – nationalists! Erdoğan is supported by imperialist slogans.
- Might a statement from officials soon come from Ankara that Turkey is fighting with Russia in Syria?
Why are they talking to NATO head Stoltenberg now? Turkey needs very weighty reasons. It is no coincidence that a request was made to deploy Patriot air defence systems on the border of the conflict zone ... Previously, German and Dutch systems were deployed there. And who will these Patriots be used against? Against the aircraft that fly there. Does anyone know perchance what aircraft they would be?
- In the coming days, will they start shooting down planes?
- This zone has already been saturated with MANPADS.
“Will it not come to the point that our Su-24s will be shot down with our S-400?”
- Not yet. The S-400 is scheduled to enter combat duty in April. Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu (incidentally, of Kurdish origin), said they, in addition to the S-400s themselves, they also receive technology from Russia. How do you like that?
- Will spring be complicated?
- Spring will be interesting. My forecast is not pessimistic – it’s realistic. What should the Syrian leadership do? The Turks have captured about 4 thousand square kilometres of Syrian lands. There are already postal and bank branches - Turkish. And Syria must demand the return of the glorious city of Antioch. The Syrian parliament has decided to recognize the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. We need to look more broadly - generally about the oppression of Christians.
- Will all this affect the supply of our gas through the Black Sea pipeline to Europe through Turkey?
Those who think so are sadly mistaken. Ankara receives several billion cubic meters from the Turkish Stream at a good price. War does not interfere with business.
Turkey posted a video of strikes against the Syrian military.
Russian Defence Ministry: Turkish soldiers were among the militants who came under fire from the Syrian troops
According to the agency, in the area where the military came under fire, there should not have been any Turkish units (details)