Is war imminent ?

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Is war imminent ?
Original by Viktor Kuzovkov published by; translation and analysis by J.Hawk
Several events occurred in the past few days which clearly point to the possibility of the Syrian conflict entering a new stage. Individually they are not in and of themselves indicative of anything, but collectively they cast a new, troubling, light on the situation.
On February 1, Russian Su-35S fighters began combat alert in Syria. For people who are not familiar with military matters, that development does not appear unusual. So they added four aircraft, the terrorist-bombing party just got merrier.
But there is one nuance. The Su-35S is the most advanced Su-27 variant and is a Generation 4++ fighter. It is intended specifically for the air superiority and air control mission. It is first and foremost a fighter, and moreover currently the best serially produced Russian fighter aircraft. Dispatching these aircraft outside Russia’s territory, considering the plane’s and its systems’ secrecy, is something extraordinary for peacetime.
Naturally, one has to acknowledge the Su-35 can work ground targets. But even the elderly Su-24, which is custom-designed for ground work, could perform that task better. So it would have been cheaper and more advantageous to deploy another Su-24 squadron.
But evidently we needed more fighters. Since the terrorists have no aircraft, we can draw the conclusion the goal of providing air cover against foreign aggression is not only still on the agenda, but has been elevated.
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg’s recent statement concerning Turkey’s supposed overwhelming military superiority over Russia only caused a few laughs in Russia. Nevertheless, if one allows for the possibility NATO’s GenSec is not a clinical idiot (which is highly probable) one can assume that he simply allowed himself a slip of the tongue. Everything is falling into place if one supposes he was not referring to the overall balance of power but the balance of power in a specific geographic area, namely Syria’s northern and north-western provinces that could become the target of Turkey’s invasion.
In that respect Stoltenberg is correct. Unfortunately, our airgroup in Syria is hardly able to single-handedly defeat an invasion of the whole Turkish military machine. While we can speak of the ability to counter an aerial assault (although with qualifications), on the ground it would be difficult to counter a land aggression. It would also deny us the ability to continue bombing the terrorists, at least at current levels.To clarify the situation a bit, Turkey is one of the key NATO members. Its army is second only to British and French (and of course the US). Its airpower is represented by the F-16 which is reliable, universal, and effective. This most widely deployed fighter is still dangerous and, assuming timely modernization, could become a headache for our aircraft in Syria. Especially considering the considerable numerical superiority which the Turks have in the region.
Stoltenberg’s statement was not the usual bravado–it should be viewed through the prism of the flow of information which is coursing through his head. Which apparently also contains references to Turkey’s probable escalation of the conflict in Turkey…
Another important and telling event was Turkey’s prohibition on the Open Skies surveillance flight.
It would appear that Turkish authorities did so in order to conceal something that’s happening along the border with Syria. The most likely explanation is military concentration in preparation for invasion.
Satellites can overcome that denial, of course. And naturally we have some visual information on what’s happening there. But the faith in satellites is not wholly founded, and they can’t see everything. An airplane is closer to the ground and, what’s also important, is able to use more effective intelligence-gathering equipment which demands large amounts of electricity, which is a limitation for satellites. Therefore the overflight would have been most useful to us in order to determine how serious Turkey is and to properly assess the number and quality of forces concentrated there. The denial, which violates international treaties, on the one hand upset our plans, but on the other hand showed Turks have something to hide.
Syria’s refusal to hold talks in Geneva is also telling. There is no shortage of interpretations of that demarche, and they usually point to the successful SAA offensive. Perhaps it is so, but then the Syrian opposition (and its overseas patrons) would look very naive–refusing to negotiate can hardly stop the Syrian offensive, and they have to understand that.
But if one assumes that the opposition is expecting  a major change in the balance of power on Syria’s frontlines, then the refusal is perfectly logical and justified. It is stupid to negotiate when your positions are weak but you expect that it might become stronger. The probable Turkish invasion into northern and north-western Turkey fits into that scenario perfectly–the very fact of direct Turkish involvement in the conflict, irrespective of Turkish military successes, would greatly strengthen the Syrian opposition’s bargaining power. And if they get lucky, negotiations might be unnecessary altogether…
All of that is rounded out by yesterday’s statement by Russian GenStaff which directly accuses Turkey of preparing an invasion of Syria. “We have serious reasons to suspect Turkey is intensively preparing to invade a sovereign state”–that’s a quote from Igor Konashenkov’s statement.
With all the willingness to attribute everything to the escalation of information war, I am not prepared to accuse our GenStaff of panic-mongering and disseminating unproven information. Rather to the contrary–this course of events is extremely inconvenient for Moscow, which means they were delaying its publication as long as possible. But they released it in the end, suggesting they are not relying on Ankara’s common sense.
Of course, in spite of all the external indications and coincidences, I will not risk asserting that we will see an escalation in Syria and Turkey’s direct entry into the war. However, it’s also obvious that today the probability of such a turn of events is higher than ever.
Syrian army’s successes scored with Russian air support have buried all of Turkey’s regional ambitions. Syrian forces slowly but surely grind down terrorist groups which for some misbegotten reason are called “moderate Syrian opposition.” If Turkey wants to at least preserve its regional status quo, it will have to do something. Now or never.
It’s an open question what Russia can use to offset Turkey’s power. Naturally, Moscow will not stand by as its elite units are destroyed, its aircraft are shot down and ships covering Latakia are attacked. It means a military response whose power and effectiveness can only be guessed at.
But that’s probably a topic for a separate discussion. For right now one can limit oneself to stating that Russia is again standing on the threshold of war which it has been so carefully avoiding during the entire Ukrainian crisis.
It’s possible this time it will have to cross that threshold…
J.Hawk’s Comments: Now for reasons suggesting Turkey might be bluffing, in no particular order:
1. The effect on Turkey’s economy, which is already in a pretty weak position. Turkey waging a war outside of its borders would drive away foreign investment, crash its currency and stock market, and in general lead to popular discontent that might endanger Erdogan’s grip on power.
2. EU pressure. It’s doubtful that the EU wants to see a military escalation, and Turkey has to consider their opinion on the matter. Moreover, there are no indications EU is sending subtle hints or messages to Turkey encouraging it to invade, or to Russia warning of Turkish invasion.
3. No apparent US endorsement of Turkish incursion–the US pressure that compelled Turkey to withdraw from Iraq was indicative of US preferences, and in fact Turkey’s incursion into Iraq was likely intended as a precedent that could then be repeated in Syria. But the US didn’t want the Turks in Iraq and it probably doesn’t want them in Syria either.
4. Saudi opposition. These two powers are nothing more than allies of convenience. Each wants to dominate the region, neither wants to see the other do so, and if the two ever come in contact with one another, a clash is inevitable. The “intra-opposition” violence in Syria is largely along these lines, with Turkish-backed forces fighting Saudi-backed forces. Also note that the US endorsed the Saudi proposal to send troops to fight in Syria, which is probably a message to the Turks: you send troops in, and you’ll quickly see Saudis on the ground to limit how far you advance.
5. The denial of Open Skies overflight was to make it look like Turkey has something to hide, even though it doesn’t. We are also not seeing the Russian MOD publishing satellite photos of Turkish forces along the border, which it surely would have if such forces are massing in preparation for invasion.
6. Turkish troop movements may well be aimed at the Kurds, on both sides of the border. The recent fighting in Diyarbakir and other towns indicates there is a sizable anti-Kurdish operation under way, with nearly 1,000 Kurds killed in the last month or so. This operation, and the associated troop presence, may be due to the fear the Iraqi Kurds will hold a referendum on independence, which would naturally have a provocative on Turkey’s Kurdish population.
7. No official NATO sanction for even a no-fly zone, let alone ground presence.
8. Turkey has other effective and less provocative measures at its disposal. They include interfering with the Syria Express, launching a heavy artillery bombardment campaign of Syria from Turkish territory, infiltrating special operations units or organizing whole battalions and brigades of “volunteers” to fight on the militants’ side, and others. Such measures would provide plausible deniability in some cases, and force Russia to attack Turkish territory in others, which means they are preferable to an overland invasion that’s not sanctioned by the UN or even NATO. Yet for some reason Turkey has failed to adopt any of these options. Even its shelling of Syrian territory was quickly stopped. In the recent Su-34 incident, there was no apparent effort to attack the Russian plane. This remarkable restraint that’s accompanying belligerent rhetoric suggests that Erdogan feels he is considerably constrained by domestic and international factors.
9. No evidence of Russian military going to a higher state of alert, which would be the natural response to suspicion that Turkish incursion is imminent.


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