Monday 22 February 2016

Would Russia use nukes to defend Khmeimim?

Did Russia Just Threaten Turkey With Nuclear Weapons?

[Note by the Saker: I do not believe that Russia has made such a threat and I will post my reasons for this in the next 24 hours.  However, I might be wrong and Mercouris and Perry right, I therefore feel like I should post this analysis]

Reports say a source close to Putin claims Russia warned Erdogan of readiness to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend Russian strike force in Syria from Turkish attack
Russia Insiderby Alexander Mercouris for Russia Insider:
The US investigative journalist Robert Parry has made an astonishing claim – and one that has gone completely unnoticed.
He is reporting that the Russian government has warned Erdogan that Russia is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend its Syrian strike force from Turkish attack.
Parry’s exact words are as follows:
A source close to Russian President Vladimir Putin told me that the Russians have warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons if necessary to save their troops in the face of a Turkish-Saudi onslaught.
Since Turkey is a member of NATO, any such conflict could quickly escalate into a full-scale nuclear confrontation.”

Generally I would be skeptical of such a story from an anonymous source. However Parry is a journalist of the highest reliability and integrity so there can be no doubt he actually has been told this by a real source.
Of course it is possible the source is making the story up, or that he is not as close to Putin as Parry believes.
However on 11th February 2016 Russia’s Security Council held a meeting the public report of which is unusually terse, whilst on the same day the Russian military reported to Putin about a series of military exercises arranged at short notice in their southern military district, which look like they were intended to prepare the Russian military for rapid action at short notice against Turkey should the need arise.
If a warning really was given it might have been given either on that day or possibly on the day after, to coincide with the military exercises whose meaning in that case would not be lost on either the US or the Turks.
The meeting of the Security Council (whose importance I discussed here) would in that case have been convened to discuss and authorise it.
The fact Obama telephoned Putin a day later on 14th February 2016 might also be connected to the warning, if it really was given.
Both the Turks and the Russians would surely have informed the US of such a warning. It would be entirely understandable in that case that the US President would want to discuss it with the Russian President. In fact it would be astonishing if he did not want to.
If it was the warning Obama and Putin discussed, then that might explain why the US and the Russians are giving such completely different accounts of the conversation.
Neither side would want to make the warning public – something which would escalate the crisis to stratospheric levels – and each would want to concoct a cover story to hide what was really discussed, which given the circumstances and the urgency they might be unlikely to coordinate with each other. That might explain why the accounts of the conversation differ so much.
Against that it must be said that it is by no means unusual for Russian and Western governments to publish radically different accounts of conversations Russian and Western leaders have with each other.
All this it should be stressed is speculation, though as is apparent it is consistent with some of the diplomatic and military moves.
If such a warning really was given it would not be the first time the US or Russia have threatened to use nuclear weapons.
The US for example warned Saddam Hussein in 1990 that it was ready to retaliate with nuclear weapons if he used chemical weapons against their troops in the First Gulf War.
However a threat to use nuclear weapons is one that is never made lightly. If it really was made it shows how fraught the situation in Syria has become.
If the Russians really did make such a threat then it would be a further reason why the US and its European allies would be urging Erdogan to act with restraint, and would be counselling him against plunging into a war with the Russians in Syria.
I had already guessed this was the case (see here and here) and in the same article in which he reports the Russian threat Parry discusses this issue extensively.
Confirmation that the Western powers are warning Erdogan against an invasion of Syria has now also come from the Financial Times (see “Turkey and Saudi Arabia consider Syria intervention”, Financial Times, 18th February 2016):
The US is seeking to rein in its allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia from military action in Syria if a ceasefire planned for today in the bloody civil war fails.
Despite mounting regional frustration over Washington’s allegedly passive stance on the five-year-old conflict the Obama administration and other western powers are worried that direct military interventions could lead to an escalation of the conflict and a dangerous clash with Russia.
Are they going to deploy troops there? Not if we can help it,” said one senior Nato diplomat.””
Each day now provides further news of advances by the Syrian army and its allies in northern Syria.
The very latest information is that the last major rebel held town in Latakia province has been recaptured by the Syrian army, and that the Syrian army is just a few kilometres away from the city of Idlib.
Slowly but surely the trap around the jihadi rebels in Aleppo is closing.
Meanwhile – whether because of warnings from Moscow or Washington or for some other reason – the Turks and the Saudis have so far not matched their rhetoric with action.
The much discussed Saudi aircraft deployment to the US airbase at Incirlik has turned out to be much smaller than initially reported, and may not actually have taken place.
The Turks are publicly sticking to their position that they will not send their troops into Syria unilaterally – which could be taken to mean they will not invade Syria unless they have US agreement and unless the US contributes ground troops to the invasion force.
Turkish action so far has been limited to cross-border shelling of Kurdish forces near Azaz and demands the Kurds stay away from Azaz, which is near the Turkish border and which the Turks say they want to make part of a buffer zone.
Even these moves have been too much for some of Turkey’s NATO allies, provoking criticism by some NATO states of Turkey for its shelling of the Kurds, though claims the UN Security Council has passed a Resolution condemning Turkey’s actions are untrue.
Interestingly the Western powers seem reluctant to endorse Turkey’s claims the Kurds of Iraq and Syria – as opposed to the Kurds of Turkey – were behind Wednesday’s terrorist attack on a military convoy in Ankara (see this discussion here), whilst Turkey’s response to the attack was to bomb Kurdish targets in Iraq rather than in Syria.
The situation is still very tense and it is premature to say that the crisis – if one exists – is past.
Whether because of Russian threats to use nuclear weapons or because of calls of restraint from the West and possibly from his own military or for some other reason, the signs for the moment however point to Erdogan backing off.
With every day that passes without a Turkish ground invasion the prospects of it happening grow less. The next few weeks should decide the issue.

From the Saker

Week Nineteen of the 

Russian Intervention in 

Syria: would Russia use 

nukes to defend Khmeimim?

Saker drawing from community
The past week saw no decrease in the tense confrontation between Turkey and Russia over Syria. While Russia’s position is simple – ‘we are ready to fight’ – the Turkish position is much more ambiguous: Turkish politicians are saying one thing, then the opposite and then something else again. At times they make it sound like an invasion is imminent, and at times they say that “Turkey plans no unilateral invasion”. Since a UN authorized invasion of Syria will never happen, this means some kind of “coalition of the willing”, possibly NATO. The problem here is thatthe Europeans have no desire to end up in a war against Russia. At the same time, the US and France refuse to allow a UN Resolution which would reaffirm the sovereignty of Syria. Yup, that’s right. The US and France apparently think that the UN Charter (which affirms the sovereignty of all countries) does not apply to Syria. Go figure…
There are persistent rumors that top Turkish military commanders, categorically oppose any attack on Syria and that they want no part in a war with Russia. I don’t blame them one bit as they understand perfectly well two simple things: first, Turkey does not need a war, only Erdogan does; second, when Turkey is defeated, Erdogan will blame the military. There are also signs of disagreements inside the USA over the prospects of such a war, with the Neocons backing Erdogan and pushing him towards war just as they had done with Saakashvili while the White House and Foggy Bottom are telling Erdogan to “cool it”. As for the Turks themselves, they have shelled Kurdish and Syrian positions across the border and, on at least two occasions, a small military force has been seen crossing the border.
From a purely military point of view, it makes absolutely no sense for the Turks to mass at the border, declare that they are about to invade, then stop, do some shelling and then only send a few little units across the border. What the Turks should have done was to covertly begin to increase the level of readiness of their forces then and then attacked as soon as Russians detected their preparations even if that meant that they would have to initiate combat operations before being fully mobilized and ready. The advantages of a surprise attack are so big that almost every other consideration has to be put aside in order to achieve it. The Turks did the exact opposite: they advertised their intentions to invade and once their forces were ready, they simply stopped at the border and began issuing completely contradictory declarations. This makes absolutely no sense at all.
What complicates this already chaotic situation is that Erdogan is clearly a lunatic and that there appears to the at least the possibility of some serious infighting between the Turkish political leaders and the military.
Furthermore, there appears to be some very bad blood between the USA and the Erdogan regime. Things got so bad that Erdogan’s chief adviser, Seref Malkoc, said that Turkey might deny the US the use of the Incirlik Air Base for strikes against ISIL if the US does not name the YPG as a terrorist group. Erdogan later repudiated this statement, but the fact remains that the Turks are now directly blackmailing the USA. If Erdogan and his advisors seriously believe that they can publicly blackmail a superpower like the USA then their days are numbered. At the very least, this kind of irresponsible outbursts shows that the Turks are really crumbling under the pressure they themselves have created.
Still, the fact that Turkey has not invaded yet is a tiny minute sign that maybe, just maybe, the Turks will give up on this crazy notion or that they will limit themselves to a ‘mini-invasion’ just a few miles across the border. The military would probably prefer such a minimal face saving option, but what about Erdogan and the crazies around him?
Maybe the Turkish military ought to realize that the country is ruled by the madman and do something about it?
Still, the Russians are taking no chances and they have put all their forces into high alert. They have very publicly dispatched a Tu-214r – her most advanced ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft. You can think of the Tu-214R as an “AWACS for the ground”, the kind of aircraft you use to monitor a major ground battle (the regular Russian A-50Ms are already monitoring the Syrian airspace). In southern Russia, the Aerospace forces have organized large-scale exercises involving a large number of aircraft which would be used in a war against Turkey: SU-34s. The Airborne Forces are ready. The naval task forces off the Syrian coast is being augmented. The delivery of weapons has accelerated. The bottom line is simple and obvious: the Russians are not making any threats – they are preparing for war. In fact, by now they are ready.
This leaves an important question to be asked: what would the Russians do if their still relatively small force in Syria is attacked and over-run by the Turks? Would the Russian use nuclear weapons?
At least one reporter, Robert Parry, as written the following: “A source close to Russian President Vladimir Putin told me that the Russians have warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons if necessary to save their troops in the face of a Turkish-Saudi onslaught”. Is that really possible? Would the Russians really use nuclear weapons of things get ugly in Syria?
The Russian Military Doctrine is very clear on the use of nuclear weapons by Russia. This is the relevant paragraph:
27. The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use against her and (or) her allies of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as in the case of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons in a way which would threaten her very existence as a state. The decision to use nuclear weapons is taken by the President of the Russian Federation.

There is no ambiguity here. Unless Russia is threatened as a state she will not use nuclear weapons. Some will, no doubt, say that the official military doctrine is one thing, but the reality in Syria is another one and if the Turks overrun Khmeimim Russia will have no other option than to use nukes. There is a precedent for that kind of logic: when the US deployed the 82nd Airborne in Saudi Arabia as part of Desert Shield the Pentagon fully understood that if the much larger Iraqi army invaded Saudi Arabia the 82ndwould be destroyed. It was hoped that the USAF and USN could provide enough air sorties to stop the Iraqi advance, but if not it was understood that tactical nuclear weapons would be used. The situation in Syria is different.
For one thing, the Russian task force in Syria is not an infantry tripwire force like the 82nd in Iraq. The terrain and the opposing forces are also very different. Second, the Russian contingent in Syria can count on the firepower and support of the Russian Navy in the Caspian and Mediterranean and the Russian Aerospace Forces from Russia proper. Last but not least, the Russians can count in the support of the Syrian military, Iranian forces, Hezbollah and, probably, the Syrian Kurds who are now openly joining the 4+1 alliance (Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah) turning it into a 4+2 alliance I suppose.
There is one important feature of this 4+2 alliance which ought to really give the Turks a strong incentive to be very careful before taking any action: every member of this 4+2 alliance has an extensive military experience, a much better one than the Turkish military. The modern Turkish military is much more similar to the Israeli military in 2006 – it has a great deal of experience terrorizing civilians and it is not a force trained to fight “real” wars. There is a very real risk for the Turks that if they really invade Syria they might end up facing the same nightmare as the Israelis did when they invaded Lebanon in 2006.

In the meantime, the Russian backed Syrian forces are still advancing. Since the beginning of their counter-offensive the Syrians have succeeded in recapturing all of the strategic locations in western Syria in slow and incremental steps and they are now threatening Raqqa. See for yourself
The bottom line is this: the size and capabilities of the Russian task force in Syria has been expanding and the level of collaborations between the elements of the 4+2 alliance has been increasing. Add to this the capability to deploy a regimental-size (and fully mechanized) Airborne force in Latakia if needed, and you will begin to see that the Turks would be taking a major risk if they attacked Russian forces even if Russia does not threaten the use of tactical nukes. In fact, I don’t see any scenario short of a massive US/NATO attack under which Russia would use her tactical nuclear weapons.
Frankly, this situation is far from resolved. It is no coincidence that just when a ceasefire was supposed to come into effect two terrorist attacks in Turkey are oh-so-conveniently blamed on the Kurds. It sure looks like somebody is trying hard to set Turkey on a collision course with Russia, doesn’t it?
Making predictions about what the Turks and their Saudi friends will do makes no sense. We are clearly dealing with two regimes which are gradually “losing it”: they are lashing out at everybody (including their US patrons), they are terrified of their own minorities (Kurds and Shia) and their propensity for violence and terror is only matched by their inability in conventional warfare. Does that remind you of somebody else?
Of course! The Ukronazis fit this picture perfectly. Well, guess what, they are dreaming of forming an anti-Russian alliance with the Turks now. Amazing no? Just imagine what a Ukrainian-Turkish-Saudi alliance would look like: a real life “Islamo-Fascist” gang of thugs combining hateful fanaticism, corruption, violence, strident nationalism and military incompetence. A toxic combination for sure, but not a viable one.
The Saker

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