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Putin's "Endgame" in Syria

By       Message Mike Whitney     Permalink
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Reprinted from Counterpunch

From twitter.com/BarbadosToday/status/651959198805282817/photo/1: Russia Fires missiles
Russia Fires missiles
(Image by Twitter User BarbadosToday)
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Russia doesn't want to fight a war with Turkey, so Russian generals devised a simple, but effective plan to discourage Turkey from taking any action that could lead to a clash between the two nations.

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Last week, Russian warplanes intruded into Turkish airspace twice. Both incidents caused consternation in Ankara and send Turkish leaders into a furor. On both occasions, officials in Moscow politely apologized for the incursions claiming they were unintentional ("navigational errors") and that they would try to avoid similar intrusions in the future.

Then there was a third incident, a more serious incident, that was not a mistake. It was clearly intended to send a message to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Here's a short summary of what happened from an article at the World Socialist Web Site:

"Turkish officials claimed a third incident on Monday, when an unidentified MiG-29 fighter jet locked its radar for four and a half minutes on eight Turkish F-16 jets that were on patrol on their side of the border, in apparent preparation to open fire." ("US, NATO step up threats to Russia over Syria," World Socialist Web Site)

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This was no mistake. The only time a fighter pilot adopts these protocols is when he plans to take down an enemy plane. This was a message, and while it might have been over-the-heads of the politicians and the media but, I assure you, every general in the Turkish High-Command knows what's it means. This is a wake-up call. Moscow is indicating that there's a new sheriff in town and that Turkey had better behave itself or there's going to be trouble. There's not going to be any US-Turkey no-fly zone over North Syria, there's not going to be any aerial attacks on Syrian sites from the Turkish side of the border, and there certainly is not going to be any ground invasion of Turkish troops into Syria. The Russian Aerospace Defence Forces now control the skies over Syria and they are determined to defend Syria's sovereign borders. That's the message. Period.

This is a good example of how "preemption" can actually prevent conflicts rather than starting them. By firing a shot over Turkey's bow, Moscow has dampened Erdogan's plan to annex part of N. Syria and declare it a "safe zone." Turkey will have to scrap that plan now realizing that any attempt to seize-and-hold Syrian territory will trigger a swift and powerful Russian retaliation. Seen in this light, Russia's incursion looks like an extremely effective way to prevent a broader war by simply telegraphing to potential adversaries what they can and can't do. Simply put: Putin has rewritten the rules of the game in Syria and Erdogan had better comply or else. Here's more on Turkey from Patrick Cockburn in The Independent:

"A Turkish ground invasion into Syria, though still a possibility, would now be riskier with Russian aircraft operating in areas where Turkey would be most likely to launch an incursion.

"The danger for the Turks is that they now have two Kurdish quasi-states, one in Syria and one in Iraq, immediately to the south. Worse, the Syrian-Kurdish one...is run by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is effectively the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984. Any insurgency by the PKK in Kurdish areas in southeast Turkey in future will be strengthened by the fact that the PKK has a de facto state of its own.

"It appears that Turkey's four-year attempt to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad has failed. It is unclear what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can do about this since support from Nato is at this stage purely rhetorical. As for Turkey's relations with Russia, Mr Erdogan says that any attack on Turkey is an attack on Nato and that 'if Russia loses a friend like Turkey with whom it has co-operated on many issues, it will lose a lot.' But in Syria, at least, it appears that it is Turkey that is the loser." ("Russia in Syria: Russian Radar Locks on to Turkish Fighter Jets," The Unz Review)

Poor Erdogan. He rolled the dice and came up snake-eyes. He figured he could expand his would-be Ottoman Empire into Northern Syria, and now his dream is in a shambles. Should he deploy his warplanes to N Syria and openly challenge the Russian air force? No, he's not that foolish. He's going to stay on his side of the border, stomp his feet, and lash out at "evil Putin", but at the end of the day, he'll do nothing.

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And Washington's not going to do anything either. Yes, Hillary and McCain have been calling for a no-fly zone over Syria, but that's not going to happen. Putin won't allow it and neither will the Security Council. And, on what pretext anyway? Is Obama really going to request a no-fly zone on the basis that Putin is killing "moderate" terrorists along with the "extreme" terrorists? That's not a very compelling argument, in fact, even the American people are having a hard time swallowing that one. If Obama wants something from Putin, he's going to have sit-down at a bargaining table and hash out a deal. So far, he has refused to do that, because he still thinks regime change is within his grasp. There are signs of this everywhere like this article in Turkey's Today's Zaman titled "degreesncirlik base to increase capacity by 2,250 to accommodate new personnel":

"A tent city within degreesncirlik has been undergoing reconstruction for modern prefabricated houses, which will host 2,250 US military personnel, the Dogan news agency reported on Friday. During the Gulf War of 1991, a tent city was established to accommodate military personnel serving with Operation Provide Comfort (OPC) and was shut down with the end of the OPC.

"On Aug. 20, work began to transform the site of the tent city into a new area named 'Patriot Town.' After construction is completed, the degreesncirlik base will have the largest capacity among the US bases in Europe...

"The expansion of the degreesncirlik base's capacity comes at a time when Russia has launched the biggest intervention in the Middle East in decades...Moscow's intervention means the conflict in Syria has been transformed from a proxy war... into an international conflict in which the world's main military powers... are directly involved in fighting." ("degreesncirlik base to increase capacity by 2,250 to accommodate new personnel," Today's Zaman)

This article smacks of US ambitions in the Middle East. As readers can plainly see, Washington is gearing up for another war just like it did in 1991. And the US air war is going to be launched from "Patriot Town" at Incirlik just like we've been predicting since July when the deal was finalized. Here's more background from an article at Hurriyet:

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.


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