A new threat on the Turkey-Syria border: Russia - MERVE ŞEBNEM ORUÇ

A new threat on the Turkey-Syria border: Russia

The "intervention in Syria" was one of the hottest debates in media in June and July last year. Turkey is challenged by the increasing Daesh threat on its border, while the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is also starting to pose a threat to the country. Hence it has been underlined over and over that a movement, with or without a coalition, is in store and an intervention in Syria will take place any time now. Besides the obvious action on the Turkey-Syria border, the PYD's call to the West to stop Turkey from interfering in Syria, showed that we were at the brink of a critical decision in terms of Syria. The cease-fire was ended in mid-July 2015 by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) with the intention of spreading the Syrian war to Turkey.

Then in the last week of July, it was announced that Turkey and the US, after long negotiations, reached an agreement.

While the US-led coalition's aircraft were allowed access to İncirlik Air Base for the anti-Daesh air operations, it was announced that Turkey's demand for a "safe zone" to be established on the Jarablous-Mare line, which will be cleared of Daesh, would be fulfilled. Although the sides are continuing talks on the technical details, an agreement was reached on the general outline.

Around about the same time, Syrian President Bashar Assad would confess for the first time on television that regime forces were having trouble controlling Syria and they are having problems in terms of human resources. According to the international media, it was not only Damascus, but Iranian diplomats fighting actively on the ground in Syria were also telling Russia for a while that if they do not come to help, they will face defeat. That was the same time that it was spread on media that Iran's Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani visited Moscow and was working on a joint operation. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was dragging his feet and would not even meet the help requests from Assad for the T4 military airport, took action. He decided to increase Russia's active presence in Syria upon claims that Turkey would interfere in Syria followed by the opening of İncirlik Air Base to coalition aircraft.

In August, Russia started to send fighter jets, tanks, armory and soldiers to the regime's Khmeimim air base in Latakia. Russia now had boots on the ground; in addition, the Russian warships that had departed from the Black Sea were beginning to reach the Eastern Mediterranean in September. In mid-September, a joint information center was established in Baghdad between Iran, Iraq, Russia and Syria. This center, which was supposedly established to fight Daesh, signified a new coalition under Russia's leadership. Hence, on September 30, Russian fighter jets began airstrikes. Russia was attacking regions where the opposition forces are present rather than Daesh as well as places like schools and hospitals, which are critical points for civilians. Yet Daesh positions in Raqqa or Deir ez-Zor were hardly attacked. It was obvious that the destination of Russian airstrikes that spread from Hama and Homs all the way to Jisr-Ash-Shugur and regime forces continuing to advance on the ground as well as Hezbollah and Shiite militias was northern Syria and the Turkish border. The regime alliance, taking action with its Russian air escort after attacking critical points such as Idlib and Djebel Zaviye and Jabal al-Akrad in Latkia and pushing Aleppo, were at the skirts of Turkmen Mountain.

On November 24, 2015, only a week after meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other leaders at G20 and, while Russian planes were continuing intense attacks on Turkmen Mountain, a Russian fighter jet which repeatedly violated Turkey's airspace on the Hatay Yayladağı border was downed by Turkish Air Forces. The excuse Russia sought to rapidly increase its aggression in Syria probably came after this provocation. As a result of the United Nations Security Council's (UNSC) Syria decision following the Vienna talks, you would expect that Russia would prefer not to increase tensions in Geneva, as it would have even more difficulty in the global oil market with the normally declining oil prices and Iran's nuclear agreement. However, the natural gas game it set up in Syria being turned into a test of bankruptcy through oil by Saudi Arabia in five years, has now become a matter of life and death for Russia. The Kremlin, which has adopted the attitude “it will be mine or nobody else's” like it did during Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, by increasing tensions with Turkey in many areas, turning Turkmen Mountain into a bloodbath and cooperating with the PYD in the region's east, is determined to take the region where Turkey is planning to establish a safe zone.

The PYD taking Tishrin Dam, in the east of the region in question, from Daesh, was originally against the US's plan. PYD taking control over this area would prevent Daesh from escaping to Raqqa, and that is exactly what happened. The PYD, which also took action from Afrin to this region, attacked opposition fronts in Azaz, they started to clash with Daesh in Jarablous, and with support from Russia – as the US would not support it – for the West of the Euphrates, it started to push Daesh to Aleppo, in other words, toward the opposition.

While a cease-fire table is being set in Geneva, Russia which is relentlessly continuing attacks on civilians and opposition forces in Syria, violated Turkish airspace once again. This time the violation happened on the Kilis-Gaziantep line. Russia, which is thought to have committed this violation during a reconnaissance flight on the Azaz-Menbij line or after bombing opposition in the north of Aleppo, was harshly criticized by both Turkey and NATO. Russia, accusing Turkey of lying once more, is also making a call to NATO to stay out of it. Furthermore, Russia is announcing rules of engagement for the Turkey-Syria line and by claiming that it will down Turkish planes that pass the border, it is acting as though Syria is Russian territory.

What's more, Russia which settled in the Khemeimin air base as a response to the İncirlik agreement, has already started working for another air base in Qamishli. And yet, it is alleged that the US has already started building an air base almost 50 kilometers from this point. While the five-year Syrian issue is turning into a global-scale fight, it is cooped up in a tight spot on the Turkish border. While even “stray bullets” caused by such military action in such a confined space are too much, Russia's repeated provocations are inevitably increasing the risk. And Russia is clearly showing that it can even take things as far as warring with Turkey to win the Syrian war, which it has turned into a matter of existence.


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