A "Nervous" NATO Fears Turkey, Russia May Soon Go To War
22 February, 2016
If you want our take - and let’s face it, you must because that’s why you’re here - we wouldn’t put too much faith in today’s announced Syrian “ceasefire” agreement.
Although the deal calls for the cessation of hostilities as of Saturday at midnight, you shouldn’t expect the Russians and the Iranians to halt their advance on Aleppo and likewise, you shouldn’t expect Turkey to stop shelling the Azaz corridor in a largely transparent effort to keep the supply lines to the rebels open.
The stakes are simply too high now. As we’ve explained exhaustively, the fall of Aleppo to Hezbollah and the Russians would for all intents and purposes be the end of the rebellion. Assad would once again control the bulk of the country’s urban backbone in the west and that would mean his rule would be effectively restored.
Additionally, don’t expect Hezbollah to simply pack up and head back to Lebanon once the rebels are defeated. Iran will most likely keep Hassan Nasrallah’s army in place to provide security as well as members of the various Shiite militias the Quds called over from Iraq. Similarly, the Russians won’t be going anywhere either. Vladimir Putin now has an air base and a naval base in Syria and The Kremlin will want to protect those installations vociferously during what is likely to be a turbulent couple of years following the demise of the rebel cause.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia know all of this and they’re fuming mad. The last thing Saudi Arabia wants is for Tehran to preserve the Shiite crescent and the supply line to Lebanon and Turkey is now in a bitter feud with the Russians following Erdogan’s ill-fated move to down an Su-24 near the border on November 24.
Both Riyadh and Ankara have indicated that they would participate in ground operations in Syria and most recently, the Turks have been busy shelling the Syrian Kurds to keep what’s left of the supply lines to the rebels open and prevent the Russian-backed YPG from consolidating territorial gains and uniting a Kurdish proto-state on Turkey’s border.
All of the above has NATO rattled, but the thing that worries the alliance the most is the possibility that Turkey will end up in an armed, direct confrontation with Russia. Were Russia to attack Turkey, NATO would be obligated to defend Ankara but that defense would mean going to war with Moscow and, most likely, with Iran.
Below, find some insightful - if slightly biased - commentary from Der Spiegel on NATO’s “Article 5” problem.
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From “Putin Vs. Erdogan: NATO Concerned Over Possible Russia-Turkey Hostiities” as published in Der Spiegel
It was a year deep in the Cold War, a time when the world was closer to nuclear war than ever. There were myriad provocations, red lines were violated, airspace was infringed upon and a plane was shot down.
The situation was such that an accidentally fired missile or a submarine captain losing his cool would have been enough to trigger World War III. It was 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis -- an incident the current Russian prime minister finds himself reminded of today. At the Munich Security Conference last weekend, Dimitri Medvedev invoked the danger of a new Cold War. "Sometimes I think, are we in 2016 or 1962?"
Officials in Berlin have likewise been struck recently by a strange sense of déjà vu.
Syria is the Cuba of 2016 and the risk of an international confrontation there is growing by the day.
Officials in Angela Merkel's Chancellery in Berlin are concerned about how close NATO has already come to a conflict with Russia. Indeed, Syria could become a vital test case for the military alliance. But the situation is complex:
In order to thwart Putin, NATO must make it clear that it stands behind its member states in their moment of need. Yet NATO also wants to avoid a military conflict with Russia at all costs.
Officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the situation between Ankara and Moscow as being extremely volatile. "The armed forces of the two states are both active in fierce fighting on the Turkish-Syrian border, in some cases just a few kilometers from each other," one NATO official says.
Since Russia became a party to the war in Syria at the end of September, there has been a significant risk of open confrontation between Moscow and Ankara. Russia has thrown its support behind the troops loyal to Syria's unscrupulous dictator Bashar Assad while Turkey is supporting the rebels who would like to topple his autocracy.
The conflict intensified at the end of November when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane and now Putin has forged an alliance with the Syrian Kurds, Erdogan's archenemies. The Turkish president holds the Syrian Kurds responsible for the attack on Wednesday in the Turkish capital, which saw an explosion in central Ankara kill 28 and wound 61. Syrian Kurds have denied responsibility, but the bombing has ratcheted up tensions between Ankara and Moscow even further.
Turkey too has done its part in recent weeks to ratchet up the escalation. Turkish troops are now firing artillery across the border at Kurds in Syria and Ankara has also been thinking out loud about possibly sending ground troops into Syria to take on the Kurds.
That would be a nightmare for the West: Direct fighting between the Kurds and the Turks could mean that Russian troops would be soon to follow. What, though, would happen were a NATO member state to fire at Russian soldiers? Officials in the Chancellery hope that the alliance wouldn't be directly called on to get involved, as long as the fighting was limited to Syrian territory.
In an effort to prevent further escalation, NATO has made it exceedingly clear to the Turkish government that it cannot count on alliance support should the conflict with Russia head up as a result of a Turkish attack. "NATO cannot allow itself to be pulled into a military escalation with Russia as a result of the recent tensions between Russia and Turkey," says Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
Should Turkey be responsible for escalation, say officials in both Berlin and Brussels, Ankara would not be able to invoke the NATO treaty. Article 4 of the alliance's founding treaty grants member states the right to demand consultations "whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened." Turkey has already invoked this article once in the Syrian conflict. The result was the stationing of German Patriot missiles on the Syrian border in eastern Turkey.
The decisive article, however, is Article 5, which guarantees that an "armed attack against one or more of (the alliance members) in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all." But Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Asselborn notes that "the guarantee is only valid when a member state is clearly attacked."
"We are not going to pay the price for a war started by the Turks," says a German diplomat. Because decisions taken by the North Atlantic Council, NATO's primary decision-making body, must always be unanimous, it is enough for a single country to exercise its veto rights, the official says. But, the official adds, it won't get that far: there is widespread agreement with the US and most other allies that Turkey would get the cold shoulder in such a case.
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Yes, but as Erdogan advisor Seref Malkoc made clear over the weekend, Ankara is getting fed up with the "cold shoulder" and if there's anything the Turks aren't scared to do, it's act unilaterally.
While NATO might indeed scold Ankara and seek to stay out of an open conflict in the initial stages, it's unlikely that the alliance would stand idly by should Russia and Turkey actually go to war.
As a reminder, Turkey has already gotten two strikes. Erodgan downed a Russian drone and then shot down a Russian warplane. Turkey is now shelling areas where Russian and Iranian forces are very likely to be operating, if not now, then within a couple of weeks.
We can promise you that when it comes to shooting at Russian assets, be they planes, drones, or soldiers, Turkey will not get a strike three.
Erdogan is out of control to
the point of verging on
22 February, 2016
22 February, 2016
On February 10 President Erdogan of Turkey insulted the United States, but it was not surprising that Washington failed to reply to his arrogant offensiveness because he is a treasured tool in its relentless anti-Russia campaign. In the context of the US-supported Kurds in the area of Kobani in northern Syria, whom Mr Erdogan’s army is illegally bombarding with massed artillery, he demanded of the US «How can we trust you? Is it me that is your partner or is it the terrorists in Kobani?»
The only US response came in the feeble words of Defence Secretary Ash Carter on being asked by a reporter if he had «any reaction to President Erdogan’s comments yesterday about America contributing to a pool of blood by supporting Kurdish fighters in Syria?» Instead of putting Erdogan in his place and saying he is a dangerous buffoon, Carter replied that «obviously Turkey is a good and longstanding ally of the United States. We’re not going to agree with them in all matters. We staunchly agree with them, and always have, that we oppose terrorism in any form… we also continue to work very closely with Turkey».
Of course Washington is going to work closely with Turkey. After all it was President Erdogan who ordered the shooting down of a Russian aircraft last November, and Washington can rely on him to indulge in bombastic confrontation against Russia at the drop of a fez. Following the terrorist bombing in Ankara on February 17 Russia «expressed its deep condolences to the people of Turkey» but the response from the Turkish government was that they were «warning Russia once more: if these terror attacks continue, they will be as responsible as the YPG [the US-supported Kurdish militia group in Syria which combats Islamic State fanatics and which has emphatically denied being involved in the bombing]».
It is embarrassing for Presidents Obama and Erdogan that their aims are so divergent: Mr Obama wants to overthrow Syria’s President Assad, presumably in the same fashion as he facilitated the murder of Libyan leader Gaddafi in 2011 («We came, we saw: he died» in the laughing words of Hillary Clinton) and to destroy Islamic State barbarians. On the other hand, Erdogan’s aim is to divide and suppress the Kurdish people, especially the fifteen million Kurds in Turkey, because they have the temerity to seek a voice in their own region.
Mr Erdogan’s antics on the international stage have caused unease for many months, and his recent US-directed display of irritation was no more bizarre or malevolent than any of his other actions. At the end of January he again claimed that a Russian aircraft had violated Turkish airspace and threatened «consequences». Even the western media did not follow up on this allegation, because it was so obviously untrue – but neither did any western media report that «Turkish Air Force fighter jets violated Greek airspace 22 times on Monday February 15, according to a news release from the Greek General Staff».
Greece is a member of NATO, but not an important one because it is not in favour of confronting Russia, with which the Athens government prefers cooperation and trade. So when Greek airspace is violated by Turkish fighter aircraft there is no reaction from the United States. When Secretary of State John Kerry was in Athens last December a reporter asked him «does Greece have the right to protect its borders? And I’m talking about violation of Greek airspace, just like in the case of Turkey. Or are there two standards in this?»
Kerry is essentially a decent man, and is usually straightforward, but could only reply that «Well, no, of course there shouldn’t be two standards… I simply encourage Greece and Turkey… as NATO allies… to work together to maintain good neighbourly relations».
Turkey will never try to maintain good relations with Greece, because Erdogan knows very well that he can insult, confront and threaten it as much as he likes without US or NATO disapproval.
Neither will there be the slightest reproach from Washington when Erdogan manages to achieve his most important personal objective, which is to replace his country’s system of parliamentary government with an all-powerful executive presidency. This, indeed, is the reason for all his bluster and arrogance.
Most members of Erdogan’s deeply Islamic Justice and Development Party are in favour of their leader becoming Turkey’s supreme ruler. If they manage to sway things in the present parliament, they will alter the Constitution so that «the head of state would have the power to issue executive and legislative decrees, which effectively would mean that both the executive and legislative powers would be concentrated in the president’s hands. Parliament would retain its legislative function, but the president would have veto power over the laws it passes… The president would appoint the ministers and half of the members of higher courts, and would have the power to dissolve parliament».
Some western media have noted this markedly authoritarian ambition and in January The New York Times stated that «Mr Erdogan, who is pushing to imbue the largely ceremonial presidency with sweeping executive powers, told reporters that ‘In a unitary system [such as Turkey’s] a presidential system can work perfectly. There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany’… Mr Erdogan did not elaborate, but his comment raised the question of why the leader of one of the world’s most influential countries, an American ally and member of NATO, would mention Hitler in the context of his own tenure».
President Erdogan is backed enthusiastically by his prime minister, Mr Davutoglu, who visited Kiev on February 15 to highlight Turkey’s anti-Russia posture. It was unfortunate but amusing that Mr Davutoglu met with President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk at the very time that «Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has asked Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to resign, saying he has lost the support of the governing coalition».
Yatsenyuk – «Yats», to use the affectionate diminutive bestowed on him by the US State Department functionary Victoria Nuland who said before Kiev’s US-supported coup of 2014 that «I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience» to be the US frontman in the replacement regime – is a spent force, and neither he nor his equally corrupt president will last much longer in power. But they and their successors will continue to be sword-bearers in Washington’s anti-Russia campaign – and will in consequence be as benevolently regarded as the energetically erratic Erdogan.
Erdogan is out of control to the point of verging on derangement, but that means nothing to Washington which is not choosy about who it selects as allies, just so long as they are anti-Russia. The US, however, should bear in mind the old adage that «He who sups with the devil should use a long spoon».