Rebel defeat in northern Syria cripples Turkey’s plans

It is no longer a secret that when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had his series of meetings with top American officials in Washington last month, he had a specific plan to kick DAESH out from northern Syria. Erdoğan tried to convince the American leadership to give another shot to Syrian Arab groups near Azaz and asked for intensified American logistics support and air cover for their offensives along the Turkish border. That was not a surprise because General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter were already publicly signaling a revival of the train-and-equip program for Turkey-backed Syrian groups. These groups would receive military training, including how to call in airstrikes on the enemy.

Ankara has used every way to make sure the U.S. would stick with the red lines imposed on the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey preventing the PKK-linked YPG’s entrance to Manbij and Jarablous requires an alternative and the U.S. seemed cautiously open to Turkish proposals. As U.S. Secretary of State Jon Kerry said earlier this month, the U.S. still considers sealing the 145kilometers of the Turkish-Syrian border controlled by DAESH as a priority.

This is why the anti-DAESH coalition significantly increased its airstrikes and Turkish artillery fire around Azaz over the past two weeks, and the Syrian opposition seized the crucial town of al-Rai along the border. But the victory was short-lived since DAESH seized the area back and disgraced the Syrian rebels by burning refugee camps and even creating a new wave of refugees to Turkey. Meanwhile, the YPG in Afrin simultaneously continued to attack opposition-held territory and made sure the YPG has no intentions of brokering an alliance in the area with rebels.

Even worse, DAESH has begun to target Turkey’s border town of Kilis with Katyusha rockets, which has caused great harm on the civilian population. DAESH has targeted the town for the last two weeks and, as a result, five Syrian refugees, three of them children, and two Turkish citizens died while dozens of citizens were wounded.

Let’s face it, Ankara is backed into a tight corner with these developments. It cannot tolerate the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) additional seizure of territory and it cannot transform weak rebels into a victorious force in a night either. And DAESH is still infiltrating into Turkey from across the border and targeting Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees. No problems are solved and U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, especially the pro-PYD officials, thinks their point is getting validated.

This is why we hear more American calls for a PKK cease-fire and a complete withdrawal of PKK forces from Turkey to Syria and Iraq, because the U.S. believes the chances for a Turkish plan to succeed are not very high and pushing the PKK into its caves while it is aiding the fight against DAESH seems a calculated move.

The problem with this plan, however, is Ankara is still not giving up on its own plan. There is no other option for Ankara, which does not believe the PKK would abandon violence unless it is militarily defeated. The point is that Ankara tried to figure a way out regarding the PKK since 2009, and it has not worked. Now, a PKK affiliate ruling a large swathe of territory in Syria makes it even a lesser possibility that the PKK would return to the negotiating table.

If Washington is seriously planning to convince Ankara on this front, officials should make sure the PKK ends its violence at once and withdraws from Turkey without any preconditions. Maybe there might be some hope for this American adventure. Who knows?

Daily Sabah

Why Turkey May Not Buy Chinese Missile Systems

Another deadline came and went at the end of April without a decision in Turkey’s drawn out effort to purchase a surface-to-air missile (SAM) with anti-missile capabilities. The Turkish Ministry of Defense announced its intention to purchase the Chinese HQ-9 system in September 2013. However, the bidding deadline has subsequently been extended three times, with the latest extension through the end of June allowing time to consider revised bids from Eurosam and the Raytheon/Lockheed Martin consortium.

The bid from the China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CPMIEC) appeared to meet all the criteria in Turkey’s tender. It came in $600 million under the asking price of $4 billion and the Chinese company offered co-production of the HQ-9, an important consideration for a Turkish government that aspires to develop its domestic defense industry. The HQ-9 system also reportedly tested well, exhibiting a capability to engage cruise missiles on a par with that of the Raytheon/Lockheed Martin Patriot system, and potentially a longer range for conventional air targets than the Patriot and Eurosam Aster 30 systems. Chinese media sources also reported that although the HQ-9 system has a shorter range than the Russian system, it has a faster response time (15 seconds) and it hit all nine of its targets in trials. Turkey felt confident that it could finalize the deal in six months (another deadline that passed in April) and was encouraged that the Chinese company offered the shortest timeline for delivery of the system. What went wrong?

The United States and other NATO countries expressed deep concern about the deal, raising questions about the security implications of CPMIEC system’s integration into NATO’s command and control network and the implications of Chinese technical knowledge about how U.S. and NATO air and missile defenses operate. U.S. and NATO leaders such as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian have pressured Turkish leaders to change their minds. U.S. lawmakers also wrote a provision into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) stating that no U.S. funds could be used to integrate Chinese missile defense systems into U.S. or NATO systems, a condition explicitly meant to encourage Turkey to backtrack from its decision to work with the Chinese.

Faced with higher than anticipated costs and under pressure from NATO and the United States, the Turkish government reopened bidding for the project several times. Successive extensions of the bidding deadline to January, then April, and now June 2014 have allowed time for U.S. and French-Italian companies to revise and resubmit their bids. Prospects for the HQ-9 dimmed further when Murad Bayar, undersecretary for the defense industry and the main proponent of the deal with China, was removed from his post within the Turkish Defense Ministry on March 27 and reassigned within the government.

If CPMIEC somehow perseveres and wins the contract, it would be a major success for the Chinese defense industry. This deal would mark China’s largest-ever military export sale and the first significant arms contract with a European country. Chinese arms exports have expanded significantly in recent years, with a 212 percent increase from 2009-2013 over 2004-2008. A completed deal could signal China’s ability to make significant inroads in the European and Middle Eastern arms sales markets.

Even if CPMIEC ultimately loses the deal, its success in the initial bidding highlights the progress China has made in missile and electronics capability. This was the first time that China demonstrated its ability to domestically develop and produce a long-range SAM and missile defense system with a quality comparable to that of the world leaders in defense technology. Airbus CEO Tom Enders expressed concern at China’s growing indigenous design and production capabilities, citing this near-deal and the development of advanced unmanned vehicles as evidence of China becoming “a serious competitor.”

Turkey appears unlikely to consummate the deal with CPMIEC, though it is unclear which Western company Turkey will ultimately choose. Raytheon/Lockheed Martin have offered to meet Turkey’s technology transfer requirement, but that would raise the price even further over Turkey’s $4 billion budget.

The drawn out process shows that China faces significant political and security barriers to entry into the European market from the United States and other NATO countries. This will be a significant obstacle for the Chinese defense industry going forward, especially in efforts to sell weapons to U.S. allies and close partners. On the other hand, CPMIEC’s success in winning the initial tender with an appealing combination of price, performance and technology transfer highlights the Chinese defense industry’s potential to compete with U.S. and European suppliers for third country markets where Western countries are less well placed to play the security card.

Denise Der

Hersh Links Turkey to Benghazi, Syria and Sarin

A recent report by journalist Seymour Hersh claims to uncover new information about the U.S. and Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. Combined with Turkey’s shutdown of YouTube and Twitter over rumors of government corruption, Hersh’s allegations further condemn the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan for political and military manipulation. Yet the sins of Erdoğan’s administration seem to be an outgrowth of America’s own self-destructive foreign policy.

The Sarin Attack

On August 21, 2013, a lethal nerve agent was released on the Syrian town of Ghouta outside Damascus. The town was host to a faction of rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, one of many engaged in a brutal civil war stretching back to early 2011.

More than a thousand Syrians were killed after exposure to the deadly gas, what was later classified by the UK Defense Science Technology Laboratory as “kitchen” grade sarin. On September 10, President Obama publicly denounced the attack and Assad, whom he asserted was the man behind it. “We know the Assad regime was responsible,” he said on national television. “And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.”

President Obama had previously warned that, should the Syrian government engage in chemical warfare, they would be treading over a dangerous “red line,” provoking military intervention by the United States. One year before the sarin attack, almost to the day, Obama told reporter Chuck Todd, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime…that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

The case seemed cut and dry: American intelligence confirmed that Assad was guilty of chemical warfare, putting him in violation of international law. But that case, according to Hersh, was made through a “deliberate manipulation of intelligence.” That a deadly gas had been used was unquestionable, but a biased narrative was “cherry picked” from the available evidence to cast the Assad regime as the perpetrator.

How was the evidence “picked?” Obama pointed to the fact that, prior to the attack, the U.S. had intercepted chatter about the Syrian army distributing gas masks and mobilizing its chemical weapons personnel. While the Syrian army had performed this exercise, it had done so in December 2012—eight months prior to the attack. Recovered munitions from the gas site matched 330mm caliber artillery rockets, which were linked to the Syrian government because such weapons “had not been previously documented or reported to be in possession of the insurgency.” Yet Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at MIT, reviewed the photos of the rocket and concluded that it was an improvised munition, “something you could produce in a modestly capable machine shop” and did not match the smaller rocket used by the Syrian military. Most importantly, the Washington narrative ignored al-Nusra, the Islamist rebel group designated by the U.S. and the U.N. as a terrorist organization.

Al-Nusra’s stated goal is to establish sharia law in Syria. They have carried out multiple suicide attacks against secular rebel groups and have been linked to small-scale chemical weapons attacks during the war. Furthermore, al-Nusra was known to be operating in Eastern Ghouta in late May and to have acquired Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, formerly of the Iraqi military, who had “a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and…[was] implicated in making and using sarin.”

Direct evidence linking al-Nusra to the Ghouta chemical attack does not exist, but neither does direct evidence linking the attack to the Syrian government. Nevertheless, Obama pushed hard for American intervention in Syria, with the sarin attack the cornerstone of his argument. The parallels to America’s previous cornerstones of Middle Eastern war, weapons of mass destruction, cannot be overstated.

Turkey, the “Rat Line” and Benghazi

In Mid-April, the London Review of Books published “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” Seymour Hersh’s investigation into America’s covert operations in Syria.

According to Hersh, America has supplied Syria with weapons and materiel by channeling them through Libya and Turkey. This process was overseen in part by the American consulate in Libya, located in Benghazi.

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report detailing the assault on the Benghazi consulate that occurred in September 2012. A highly classified annex to the report (distributed to only eight members of Congress) further details the agreement made between President Obama and Prime Minister Erdoğan to transport military supplies from Libya through Turkey and into the hands of Syrian rebels. This back channel, what is known as a “rat line,” was authorized in early 2012 but has yet to be publicly acknowledged by the Obama administration. The Director of National Intelligence also denies the existence of a Turkish rat line.

According to Hersh’s sources, the rat line was funded by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and executed by the CIA in conjunction with the UK’s MI6. The CIA is required by law to inform Congress of such covert missions, but not when they involve foreign agencies. This collaboration between the CIA and MI6 was thus classified as a liaison operation, overseen by CIA Director David Petraeus prior to his resignation, and used Libyan front companies to ship packages to Turkey.

The reason for the attack on the Benghazi consulate remains a mystery, but according to a former intelligence official, “The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms. It had no real political role.”

The Benghazi attack was a tragedy, but it was also a political disaster—publicly and privately. The U.S. lost control of the rat line shortly afterwards, but even prior to the deaths of four U.S. personnel, weapons were being put into the hands of Syrian jihadists. Syria’s rebel groups are not a homogenous lot and many have been affiliated with al Qaeda. The rat line did not discriminate.

When America ended its CIA mission, it left Turkey with a lingering connection to Syria’s radical insurgents and the question of what to do next. No matter how the civil war ends, Turkey’s relationship with both the Syrian government and its rebel factions will come under scrutiny.

Protection was needed in the form of U.S. intervention and Turkish leaders sought a way to pull the U.S. back into the war.

On August 18, 2013, UN inspectors were near Damascus investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal. During their three-day investigation, it would have been an exceptionally inopportune moment for the Syrian government to deploy sarin gas in nearby Ghouta.

Indeed, the longer American analysts study the August 21 gas attack, the greater their sense that the Syrian government did not perpetrate it. “But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen?” asks Hersh’s source. “The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.”

The assessment of the Defense Intelligence Agency is that the sarin was supplied by Turkey to elements in Ghouta with the intent of “push[ing] Obama over the red line.” Intercepted transmissions from Turkish operators in the aftermath of the attack are jubilant, and the success of their covert mission must have seemed well in hand. Obama’s implicit call to war in the coming month was proof of that.

But America didn’t go to war with Syria. Turkey would need to find another way in.

YouTube and the False Flag

On March 27, the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (TIB) blocked the video sharing site YouTube. This was in response to a posted video that purported to have confidential audio of a conversation among Turkey’s top authorities, including Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan, Deputy Chief of Military Staff Yasar Guler, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Prime Minister Erdoğan.

As of this writing, Reuters has not verified its authenticity, but both Davutoglu and Erdoğan have admitted it is genuine. But whereas Davutoglu has said the tape has been edited, Erdoğan has only railed against the “villainous” leaking of a national security meeting.

The subject of the meeting, as translated by the International Business Times, was possible intervention in Syria’s civil war. To justify intervention, Fidan suggests sending men from Syria to attack Turkey.

Hakan Fidan “I’ll send 4 men from Syria, if that’s what it takes. I’ll make up a cause of war by ordering a missile attack on Turkey; we can also prepare an attack on Suleiman Shah Tomb if necessary.”

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: “That’s what I told back there. For one thing, the situation is different. An operation on ISIL has solid ground on international law. We’re going to portray this is Al-Qaeda, there’s no distress there if it’s a matter regarding Al-Qaeda. And if it comes to defending Suleiman Shah Tomb, that’s a matter of protecting our land.”

Yaşar Güler: “We don’t have any problems with that.”

Hakan Fidan: “Second after it happens, it’ll cause a great internal commotion (several bombing events is bound to happen within). The border is not under control…”

What Fidan proposes is known as a “false flag” attack, a mission wherein the enemy is actually disguised members of one’s own country sent in to incite a panic. Suleiman Shah is the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire; though his tomb is located near Aleppo, Syria, it is guarded by the Turkish military. Islamist rebels in Syria have threatened to destroy it in the past and Erdoğan has publicly threatened retaliation if they do.

But if ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) don’t, the voice allegedly belonging to Fidan knows what to do: “I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.”

Erdoğan has accused YouTube of giving saboteurs a platform for dissent and banned access to the website nationwide. The ban was temporarily lifted on April 5 but the ruling was reversed by the GölbaşıCriminal Court of First Instance. Two days later, Google filed a protest with Turkish courts.

The Horror

Understandably, Turkey and the U.S. have denied Hersh’s allegations. Both countries point out that Hersh has but one unnamed intelligence source supplying most of his information and reaffirm that each is the other’s ally. Hersh’s unnamed intelligence source could have predicted that:

“We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous.”

The countries have said that this conspiracy of Hersh’s is too horrific to be believed. I’m sure Mr. Hersh is used to it. He’s been hearing that since 1969.

Foreign Policy Journal

The New Strategic Reality in the Black Sea

The crisis in Ukraine, which led to annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, had an immediate impact on the strategic situation across the entire Black Sea region. Russia emerged as a clear beneficiary mostly at the expense of Ukraine. The new situation will now have repercussions for other regional actors, in particular Turkey and Romania, and will lead to the increased involvement of the United States. However, Washington will likely prefer to support Romania over Turkey in an attempt to avoid the creation of a potential Russo-Turkic geopolitical duopoly in the region.

Russian gains

The annexation of Crimea has greatly increased Russia’s strategic footprint in the Black Sea region. From a military perspective, the peninsula can serve as an outpost for extending power projection towards southern Ukraine, the Balkans and Turkey.  Now that Moscow’s military presence is no longer constrained by former legal agreements with the Ukrainian side, it can fully utilise the geostrategic potential of Crimea by implementing a broad spectrum of mutually reinforcing instruments.  The Iskander surface-to-surface tactical ballistic missile, for example, with a 400 kilometre operational range, could cover the entire southern part of Ukraine – including important industrial cities like Odessa, Kryvyi Rih and Dnipropetrovsk, a large part of Moldova, the entire Romanian coastline and a significant part of the Turkish Black Sea coast. The surface-to-surface systems can be further complemented by long-range, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles providing a full spectrum of capability to strike ground targets, interdict maritime traffic and impose no-fly zones.

The range of power projection can be further extended by employing air and naval assets. The Russian air force, through newly gained access to ex-Ukrainian air bases in Crimea, now has a broader presence covering almost the entire Black Sea coastline, Transnistria and southern Ukraine comfortably within its operational range. It’s worth stressing that the location of the Crimea peninsula makes it a very attractive place for stationing airborne troops, naval infantry and Spetsnaz (special operations forces) for potential deployment in southern Ukraine. The deployment of troops would be further facilitated in the near future by the acquisition of Mistral amphibious assault ships, of which one is to be allocated to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The annexation of Crimea has also radically improved the capabilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It has now gained unimpeded access to the Sevastopol naval base alongside an entire ex-Ukrainian naval infrastructure on the peninsula.

Before the Crimean crisis, the Black Sea Fleet had two cruisers, one destroyer, two frigates, ten corvettes and one diesel-powered submarine and constituted a major naval power in the region. Its potential was only exceeded by the Turkish Navy which splits its forces between the Black Sea and the Aegean and Mediterranean theatres. The potential of the Black Sea Fleet will be further increased after completion of an ambitious modernisation programme which will add six new frigates, six new submarines, a Mistral amphibious assault ship and several other smaller vessels. Assuming no radical changes to the naval potential of other countries in the region, the Russian Black Sea Fleet will soon equal or be greater than the combined fleets of all the other Black Sea coastal states.

Apart from the increase in its offensive capabilities, Russia will also see its defensive posture strengthen. Crimea offers Russia a strong forward defence point, particularly against potential air and sea incursions into the south-western regions of the Russian Federation. Anti-ship and anti-aircraft capabilities of Black Sea Fleet complemented by similar land-based systems on the peninsula will together create a strong line of defence ahead of the Russian mainland.

Emerging duopoly?

Consequences of the crisis have been almost entirely negative for Ukraine. Crimea was Ukraine’s window to the Black Sea and home to key naval bases in Sevastopol and Donuzlav Bay, which are now lost.  The Ukrainian navy has, at least temporarily, lost most of its warships during the Crimean crisis and currently has only one vessel capable of full-scale combat operations – the Hetman Sahaydachniy. The loss of naval bases in Crimea leaves Odessa as the primary and only alternative place for the dislocated Ukrainian Navy. However this naval base is potentially well within the operational range of missile systems located in Crimea and due to its geographic location, a Russian blockade would be relatively easy to execute.

The annexation of Crimea has significantly changed the balance of power in the region towards a more duopolistic geopolitical arrangement – between Russian and Turkey. To some extent, this arrangement resembles one from the 18th or 19th century. From the Turkish point-of-view, the immediate impact of the crisis is rather negative since the country has to now face a more powerful and assertive Russian presence in the Black Sea region resulting in the deterioration of Ankara’s relative position versus Moscow. The newly expanded Russian military presence will likely put Turkey in a more defensive position in the Black Sea.

Ankara has often voiced concerns about Russian actions in the region in the recent years. With the annexation of Crimea, however, it avoided challenging Moscow directly and can be seen as a result of Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbours” foreign policy. There is also a notable increase in trade and economic relations between both countries along with a significant dependence on Russian energy for Turkey. Both countries also recognise each other’s strength and position in the region and understand that a direct confrontation would have far reaching consequences, potentially destabilising vast areas across the Black Sea, Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia.

The new balance of power also underlines Turkey’s role as the sole local actor capable of potentially challenging Russian expansion in the region. This increases the importance of Ankara on the international stage and elevates it further as an alternative to Moscow for smaller countries. Therefore, the crisis provides Turkey with an opportunity to capitalise on its status of a regional power. However, the extent of that impact will significantly depend on US policy choices and the degree to which Washington will actually decide to support Ankara directly rather than countering Russia by strengthening other actors in the region.

It’s already visible that one of results of the Ukrainian crisis will be an increased US presence in the region. Apart from more frequent naval visits to the Black Sea basin, Washington will likely extend different forms of support to its NATO allies. Despite Turkey being the strongest regional ally, it’s very likely that Bucharest will become a major, if not the main, recipient of increased US support. In general, Romania is likely to firmly establish itself, due to the degradation of Ukraine, as a third power in the region after Russia and Turkey. From the US perspective the country offers several strategic advantages. It’s the least dependent of the coastal states on Russian energy. It was also historically less pro-Russian than many other Balkan countries (e.g. Bulgaria, Serbia or Greece).  In addition the country offers a good access point to several critical areas in South-Eastern Europe as it’s located in the direct vicinity of the Balkans, Ukraine and the Black Sea. Romania’s convenient position can be used as a logistical hub to serve US forces en route to the Middle East or Central Asia. The country already hosts US military personnel, mainly at the Mihail Kogălniceanu air base. All these factors make Romania a good candidate for a buffer to potential future Russian expansion.

Geopolitical shifts

In addition, the US may also have its own strategic interest in favouring Romania over Turkey. On the surface it may appear that Turkey would be the most natural candidate for receiving US support as the most prominent regional power capable of challenging Russian influence. However, further strengthening of Turkey at the expense of other regional countries could lead to the creation of a geopolitical duopoly transforming the region into a quasi-Russo-Turkic condominium. This in turn could significantly reduce influence of external actors thus potentially leading to marginalization of US influence in the area.

Furthermore, Turkey, due to its military and economic strength, could be a more difficult partner for the US. It’s also well possible that Ankara would actually see increased US presence as a factor weakening its regional position and a potential constraint on pursuing own foreign policy objectives.  Bucharest, on the contrary, would not only be less willing and able to challenge US influence, but would rather see it as a factor elevating its position in the region. Thus, extending support to Romania not only creates a buffer against potential further Russian expansion but also helps to maintain a less concentrated balance of power in the region. That in turn would help Washington to maintain a more flexible and unimpeded access to the area.

The chain of events which unfolded due to the Ukrainian crisis has led to a significant change in the strategic situation in the Black Sea region. Turkey has to now face a larger and more assertive Russian presence, which will likely force it to deploy more resources to its northern flank and maintain a defensive posture in the Black Sea. While Russia, after more than 20 years, has managed to restore a significant presence in the area. It is not yet on the level achieved during the times of the Soviet Union, but is closer to its position during the 19th century.

By Mr. Adam Klus

Adam Klus is a PhD student of the Past, Space and Environment in Society Doctoral Programme at the University of Eastern Finland. His research interests include; geopolitics of Eastern Europe, country risk analysis, asymmetric threats, unconventional use of military force, and geopolitically disruptive technologies. He works as an investment professional and has several years of experience from financial companies in London and Helsinki.

Is Ukraine’s Military Splitting in Two?

ukraine-2010-presidential-electionMuch has been made about the presence of Russian troops —including what appear to be special forces units— in southern Ukraine. But peace and stability in the region are not threatened only by the actions of foreign troops; they are also threatened by the attitude of the armed forces of Ukraine, whose stance is likely to determine the outcome of the current crisis. The government of Ukraine has called all military reservists in the country to mobilize in order to “ensure the security and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. But what guarantee is there that the Ukrainian armed forces will remain united while the country is splitting in two —or three, counting the Tatars? At least 20 percent of Ukraine’s citizens consider themselves ethnically Russian, and there is little reason to believe that the ranks of the Ukrainian military, which reflect the ethnic makeup of the country’s divided population, will prove immune to rapidly intensifying sectarian tensions. Already Russian news outlets report that “the majority” of Ukrainian armed forces personnel stationed in Crimea have “switched to the side of local authorities” of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The secessionist government’s Deputy Prime Minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, said on Sunday that the Ukrainian armed forces in the breakaway region “have all but surrendered” and that many “are expected to take military oath soon”, declaring their allegiance to the Crimean Republic. Presumably these are ethnic Russians who are abandoning the Ukrainian military and joining that of the secessionist movement in Crimea out of nationalist allegiance.

On Sunday afternoon, news agencies reported that Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, who was appointed head of Ukraine’s Navy on Friday, had voluntarily defected to the ethnic Russian side. Russian media aired video footage of Berezovsky pledging his allegiance “to the people of Crimea”.  The Admiral’s defection, which occurred on only his second day on the job as commander of the Ukrainian Navy, prompted Crimea’s secessionist Prime Minster, Sergey Aksyonov, to announce the official creation of “Crimea’s Navy”, consisting of ships that have defected from Ukraine. One such ship appears to be the Hetman Sahaidachny, a frigate that was until recently in the Gulf of Aden, participating in a Western-led counter-piracy operation. On Sunday, as the frigate was returning to the Black Sea, its captain, Rear Admiral Andrey Tarasov, announced his intentions to disobey all orders from Kiev, while submitting himself to the authority of the Crimean government.

Gangs of rival protesters clashing in the streets of Kiev, Kharkov, and other Ukrainian cities, with stones and baseball bats is one thing. But if the Ukrainian armed forces split along ethnic lines, then civil war will become unavoidable. Under such a scenario, Russian and the West will in all likelihood be unable to prevent an armed conflict that will irreparably undermine the collective security of the entire Eurasian region.

Joseph Fitsanakis

Did Israel Use a Turkish Military Base in Latakia Attack?

This story keeps getting weirder and more interesting: RT (formerly Russia Today) reports based on a “reliable source” that Turkey allowed Israeli air-force jet bombers to use one of its military bases to attack the Syria port of Latakia, where the government had stored Russian-made Yakhonts anti-ship missiles.  Israel believed the armaments were destined for Hezbollah, which would use them in the next war in Lebanon to neutralize Israel’s naval forces.  For a discussion of the weapons system and the role it might play in such a battle, read this report.

Given that this story keeps getting curiouser and curiouser, I believe the story is very possibly true.  So now we have to ask ourselves a number of questions:

Why would a Turkish government nursing a deep grudge against Israel for killing 9 of its citizens in the Mavi Marmara massacre, all of a sudden turn around and lend an air base for an attack on a third country?  Further, why would Turkey cooperate with Israel in attacking Syrian missiles destined for Hezbollah?  Turkey has no quarrel with the Lebanese militant group.

There are several answers.  Turkey is opposed to the Assad government and anything that will weaken it may cause Turkey to relax its former animosity toward Israel.  Also, Hezbollah has escalated its involvement in the Syrian conflict by sending thousands of its fighters to capture Qusayr.  This would be a way for Turkey to make the Islamist group pay a steep price for its intervention.  It would be yet another way for both Israel and Turkey to say to Assad that he faces a looming alliance among former enemies who are now united (at least covertly) in their opposition to his rule.

Second, if Israel wanted to attack Syria without violating its airspace it could just as easily have flown north from Israel to a point west of Latakia and attacked from the Mediterranean.  Why did the Israeli air force feel it needed to attack from Turkey?  The answer may lie in the fact that attacking from Turkey would allow Israel to attack from the north rather than the west.  Syria would not have expected an attack on Latakia from the north and therefore might not have defended against it.  This would give the Israeli attackers an element of surprise.

If this account is true, it proves that Middle East relations are based far more on shared interests than on principles.  In other words, pragmatism and even cynicism is the rule of the day.  Turkey, which trumpets its dedication to the Palestinian cause and its implacable opposition to Israel’s Occupation, can do the unthinkable and allow Israeli military forces to use its sovereign territory to attack an enemy.  So much for the notion of Muslim solidarity.  And so much for the Islamist criticism of Muslim states (Saudi Arabia, etc.) that allow non-Muslim military forces (U.S., etc.) to attack fellow Muslim states, thereby betraying Islam.

For Erdogan, the opportunity to bloody Assad’s nose trumped all those considerations.  The other problem with Turkey’s decision is that it will give Israel the impression that since Turkey granted access to its military bases, it will also fold regarding its support of the Palestinians.

Alternately, we may see that Israel retracts its opposition to paying $1-million to each of the families of the victims of the Mavi Marmara attack.  Israeli capitulation on that score may signal a quid pro quo for Turkey’s help in attacking Latakia.

One way to gauge this is by whether Erdogan follows through on his commitment to visit Gaza.  He was supposed to come last month.  But the turmoil in both Egypt and Turkey caused a delay.  If he does visit Gaza Israel should know this alliance is extremely tactical and targeted at a very narrow range of issues.  If he doesn’t, then we’ll know that Israel has succeeded in co-opting yet another opponent of Occupation.

Finally, it’s interesting that the source for this report is a Russian media outlet.  Remember that Russia’s missiles were targeted and destroyed in Israel’s attack.  Vladimir Putin has not responded in any way to this.  Alex Fishman, in yesterday’s Yediot, took his silence as a confirmation that Putin is at heart nothing but a cynical weapons merchant who doesn’t care what happens to his weapons as long as he’s paid for them.  As with so much of what he wrote in that article, I think it’s a crock.

Israel’s attack is an affront not only to Hezbollah and Assad, but to Russia as well.  Putin is not the disinterested arms dealer Fishman makes him out to be.  There will be an accounting for this act of aggression by Israel.  The only question is where and when and under what circumstances.  If RT’s reporter learned her information from a Russian intelligence source, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

I am trying through DC and Turkey-based journalists with U.S. or Turkish military-intelligence sources to confirm this story.

Richard Silverstein

Raytheon’s Mike Boots Explains Turkey’s Patriot Balance

A Dutch soldier standing by a Patriot anti-missile battery at the Diyarbakir military airport in southeastern Turkey. (AFP)
A Dutch soldier standing by a Patriot anti-missile battery at the Diyarbakir military airport in southeastern Turkey. (AFP)

TR Defence’s North America correspondent and acting editor-in-chief Hasan Karaahmet has interviewed Mr. Mike Boots, Patriot Turkey Program Manager at Raytheon Defense Systems, to shed light on some of the most common questions Turkish defense enthusiasts ask regarding Turkey’s T-LORAMIDS long-range air defence program.

Hasan Karaahmet: Mr. Boots, thank you for agreeing to talk to our readers. As a time-tested, battle-proven system, many countries around the world depend on the Patriot, both NATO and non-NATO. What is the driving force behind Patriot’s huge commercial success to this day?

Mike Boots: No other existing system has the proven combat experience of Patriot to engage evolving threats; and no other air and missile defense system has demonstrated the reliability and lower cost of system ownership. Patriot is the backbone of NATO’s lower tier defense, and as you know, Patriot is currently deployed in Turkey by NATO members Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.

Hasan Karaahmet: What is the current level of deployment around the world?

Mike Boots: There are currently over 200 Patriot fire units deployed around the world with Raytheon’s 12 Patriot partners. More than 40 Patriot fire units are now in construction or are undergoing modernization.

Hasan Karaahmet: How about the US? How long does the US military itself plan on using the Patriot air defence system?

Mike Boots: The US Army has committed to fielding Patriot beyond the year 2048.

Hasan Karaahmet: What’s Raytheon’s policy on investments in Turkey?

Mike Boots: Raytheon has a long history working in Turkey — from ground based air defence systems like Stinger and Hawk to tactical radars like Firefinder and Sentinel. From our family of air-to-air missiles like AMRAAM and AIM-9 to naval command management systems like Genesis. Raytheon is committed to partnerships with Turkish industry.

Hasan Karaahmet: Any cooperation prospects in regards to Patriot?

Mike Boots: We are already working closely with several Turkish defence companies to produce Patriot components for export to other countries. For example, Aselsan is a key strategic partner for Raytheon on the Antenna Mast Group for the UAE Patriot system. Roketsan is also a key strategic partner, producing components of GEM-T missile for the UAE and Kuwait. Also, Pagatel is producing command and control shelters, and AYESAS is working on the command and control integration.

Hasan Karaahmet: Turkey’s Undersecreteriat for Defence Industries, the SSM, has adopted a procurement policy favoring local production and technology sharing. What are Raytheon’s views on this?

Mike Boots: Both Roketsan and Aselsan have been awardedRaytheon’s prestigious Supplier Excellence awards for the past two years for the excellent work they have performed on these programs. We anticipate increased global Patriot work share for Roketsan and Aselsan and have recently signed long-ter, agreements with these great companies for collaboration on advanced technology co-development projects in the area of high altitude missile defense. In addition to these strategic partner companies I mentioned, many other Turkish defence companies have the experience and skills we look for in our suppliers. As we win in other countries, they will get the opportunity to compete for additional work for those programs.

Hasan Karaahmet: Can the Patriot system be operated in conjunction with an Aselsan radar or launch a Turkish-made missile with comparable capabilities?

Mike Boots: Patriot can use data and information from a wide variety of sources and can interface with a variety of equipment, including missiles. We would need to know the specific sensors or effectors we are talking about in order to adequately answer that question.

Hasan Karaahmet: Does the US government or certain laws restrict the transfer of know-how on any subsystem or component of Patriot to Turkey?

Mike Boots: No! Turkey is a valuable ally of the United States and a NATO partner. Turkey’s T-LORAMIDS program fulfills an important NATO air and missile defence commitment.

Hasan Karaahmet: Certain reports appeared in the Turkish defence media indicate that the Patriot procurement has been tied to Turkey’s being granted access to F-35 source codes and the SM-2/Aegis technology for TF-2000 class frigates. What can you tell me about this?

Mike Boots: Intellectual property (IP) rights, such as software source codes, are often an issue to be negotiated in any sale of new technology. A customer’s desire for IP rights must be balanced with the rights of the inventor and owner of those rights through the negotiation process.

Hasan Karaahmet: Mr. Boots, how does Patriot compare to the other Western contender in T-LORAMIDS, Eurosam’s SAMP/T? What makes Patriot the better of the two?

Mike Boots: As I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, no other existing system has the proven combat experience of Patriot to engage evolving threats. No other air and missile defence system has demonstrated the reliability and lower cost of system ownership. Patriot is NATO’s lower tier defense with 200 Patriot fire units deployed around the world.

Hasan Karaahmet: In the past, we’ve published statements from mainly US sources that if Turkey opts for a non-Western solution, integration of the SAM system into NATO networks can be problematic. Can you explain to our viewers as to why this is the case?

Mike Boots: We have read and heard similar statements from various sources. NATO is very serious about protecting critical technology from falling into the hands of potential enemies. Patriot is a key element of NATO air and missile defence capability and works seamlessly with the NATO command and control architecture and other NATO defence systems. NATO would be very careful about what other systems might be connected to the architecture.

Hasan Karaahmet: What’s the future for Patriot? Is it going to continue to evolve with new capabilities beyond the GEM=T and PAC-3?

Mike Boots: The Patriot modernization roadmap will ensure Patriot remains the most advanced air and missile defence system in the world. If Turkey chooses Patriot for their long-range air and missile defense system, Turkish industry will have opportunities to participate in co-developing new technologies to help keep Patriot on the leading edge of technology.

 

Just open that damned chapter!

The European Union-Turkey relationship has again moved from one extreme to another. The end result is still the same: the accession process is still on hold. It was on hold when all the EU leaders were praising Turkey for its democratic and economic achievements; it is still on hold as some EU leaders are criticizing Turkey’s government for its harsh crackdown on protests and its interference in the press.   Like a pendulum, the mood changes, yet the facts remain: Croatia and Turkey started their EU accession processes together. Croatia got in last year, while Turkey is still waiting with quite a few chapters to go.

And look who is spearheading the criticism against Turkey’s harsh response to peaceful demonstrators.  Angela Merkel. Have we all forgotten Stuttgart 21? It made 2010 the year of water cannon politics for the chancellor. What was the major criticism against Angela Merkel at the time? Her harsh response to protestors. Stuttgart 21 was about an old train station to be replaced by an underground. It all started when the construction team started to cut down the trees in a nearby park that was to be annexed to the new station grounds. When protesters gathered, riot police showed up and dispersed them with water cannons and tear gas. That displayed the decisiveness of Angela Merkel. When you compare Gezi to Stuttgart 21, the only difference is in the competence of the riot police, if you ask me. The Germans are competent, Turks are not. The criticism on the lack of press freedom, I understand. But harsh response? Stuttgart 21 was harsh, too. That was the year when the CDU lost the state of Baden Württemberg to the Greens in the upcoming elections. It’s not hard to understand why. Populist politicians are the same everywhere, whether they are called Erdoğan or Merkel.

The protests in Taksim Square over cutting down trees in Gezi Park were part and parcel of the Euopeanization of Turkey. It all started with the trees. Unlike Stuttgart 21, fringe leftist groups were not at the core in Gezi Park, they came later. It was the young, urban professionals of Turkey who took to the streets. They are the result of the Europeanization of Turkey and on that day they took the country a few steps further in the same direction. The rapid spread of protests all around the country was partly a response to police brutality in Gezi Park and partly a call for the freedom of the press.

A very European reflex, if you ask me. I find the decision to block the new chapter in the Turkish accession process rather disappointing. Blaming it on harsh response to recent protests however, is rather hypocritical of Ms. Merkel.

Young urban professionals have decided to take action. The EU’s response to these most Europeanized of Turks should not be to abandon them. The people on the street created a conducive environment for a positive agenda. If the EU fails to seize this chance, it would be disgrace – a disgrace toward the protestors in Turkey and towards the ideals of the EU. So? Just open that damned chapter! Period.

Guven Sak

Kroenig: Why the U.S. needs its oversized nuclear arsenal

This week, President Obama gave a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, calling for the United States and Russia to reduce the size of their deployed nuclear arsenals by one-third to around 1,000 strategic warheads. The call for further cuts has been greeted with enthusiasm in many quarters, but these proposed nuclear reductions could potentially be highly damaging to U.S. interests.

In his speech, the president argued that such cuts would be consistent with the goal of maintaining “a strong and credible strategic deterrent,” but this argument rests on a contested theory about how nuclear deterrence works. The Obama administration, and many scholars and experts, believe that a secure, second-strike capability is sufficient for deterrence and that anything more is “overkill.” Therefore, they believe that nuclear warheads in excess of a “minimum deterrent” threshold can be cut with very little loss to our national security.

However, there are those who argue that maintaining a nuclear advantage over one’s opponents enhances deterrence. As Paul Nitze argued during the Cold War, it is of “the utmost importance that the West maintain a sufficient margin of superior capability. . . . The greater the margin (and the more clearly the Communists understand that we have a margin), the less likely it is that nuclear war will ever occur.”

For decades, this debate was largely theoretical – neither camp marshaled systematic evidence in support of its views – but, recently, I methodically reviewed the relationship between the size of a country’s nuclear arsenal and its ability to achieve its national security objectives. I found strong evidence that, when it comes to nuclear deterrence, more is better.

In an analysis of 52 countries that participated in nuclear crises from 1945 to 2001 (think the Cuban Missile Crisis), I found that the state with the greater number of warheads is over 17 times more likely to achieve its goals. In addition, there is qualitative evidence from these crises that leaders in nuclear-armed states pay close attention to the nuclear balance of power, that they believe nuclear superiority enhances their position, and that a nuclear advantage often translates directly into a geopolitical advantage.

For example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Secretary of State Dean Rusk argued, “One thing Mr. Khrushchev may have in mind is that . . . he knows that we have a substantial nuclear superiority . . . He also knows that we don’t really live under fear of his nuclear weapons to the extent . . . that he has to live under ours.” Even if Russia agrees to match the president’s proposed cuts, the nuclear reductions would attenuate our advantages vis-à-vis Russia and eat into our margin of superiority against other nuclear-armed states, such as China, possibly increasing the likelihood that the United States will be challenged militarily and reducing the probability that we achieve our goals in future crises.

If there is at least some reason to believe that reductions could harm America’s strategic deterrent, then certainly those in favor of reductions provide concrete evidence that the benefits of reductions outweigh these costs, right? Alas, they do not.

Supporters of further cuts argue that reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy will help us stop the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries. They argue that our large nuclear arsenal makes it difficult (if not hypocritical) to tell, say, Iran that it cannot have nuclear weapons, or to demand that other non-nuclear countries (such as Brazil and Turkey) help us pressure Iran. Therefore, they argue, we can generate goodwill and strengthen our nonproliferation efforts by cutting our own nuclear arsenal.

This argument makes sense at a superficial level, but on closer inspection it falls apart. As Iran’s leaders decide whether to push forward with, or put limits on, their nuclear program, or as Brazilian and Turkish leaders think about getting tougher with Iran, they likely consider many things, but it is implausible that the precise size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is among them. The evidence backs this logic up; the United States has been cutting the size of its nuclear arsenal since 1967, but there is no reason to believe that we have ever received any credit for doing so, or that these cuts have contributed to any breakthroughs on important nonproliferation problems. In short, we can’t stop other countries from building nuclear weapons by getting rid of our own.

Finally, proponents of cuts claim that nuclear reductions will lead to cost savings in a time of budget austerity, but, at least in the short term, nuclear reductions will actually result in cost increases, not decreases. Cutting arsenal size means pulling missiles out of silos, erecting buildings in which to store them, dismantling retired warheads, and decommissioning nuclear facilities. All of this costs money. Only if we think we can maintain a diminished nuclear posture indefinitely is it plausible to think there might be marginal cost savings to be had over the long run. But this would be an unwise bet given that U.S. competitors, including China, are moving in the opposite direction, expanding and modernizing their nuclear forces.

Since there are potential strategic costs and no identifiable benefits to further reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the United States should refrain from making any additional nuclear reductions. It must not go below the 1,550 warheads agreed to in New START (and it should take its sweet time getting down to that number). In addition, the United States should maintain the “hedge” of weapons it keeps in reserve at current levels and halt the transfer of warheads from storage to retirement and elimination. Finally, the Obama administration must follow through on its promise to fully invest in modernizing U.S. nuclear infrastructure so that it does not lose the capability to sustain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal for decades to come.

Some may find this argument provocative, but it is actually quite anodyne; I recommend simply that the United States maintain the status quo. What is provocative is slashing America’s nuclear arsenal to 60-year lows in the face of evidence suggesting that doing so will harm our national interests.

Newsday

Iran Has Reasons to Spoil PKK-Turkey Peace Process

On April 25, rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) announced during a  media conference in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq that they  would start to withdraw from Turkey on May 8. There are indications that this process could isolate Iran and possibly end a cease-fire between the  PKK’s Iranian offshoot and Iranian forces.

While the media conference was being held, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard  was holding a two-day drill called “Toward Jerusalem” in the province of West Azerbaijan (April  25-26). Two weeks before, there was a clash in the same province between Kurdish rebels and the  Iranian Revolutionary Guard in city of Maku, near the Turkish border. The  Kurdish news agency Firat claimed that more than 176 Kurds were arrested in large campaigns.

According to Kurdish websites, seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary  Guard were killed, but this cannot be confirmed by independent sources. It is a  sign that the September 2011 cease-fire between Kurdish rebels and Iran is under  pressure, although Murat Karayilan, acting commander of the PKK, told the  Kurdish TV channel Newroz that a cease-fire in Iran should continue, in an attempt to ease  Iranian suspicions.

It is clear that Iran could spoil the peace process. Duran Kalkan, a member  of the executive council of the Union of Communities of Kurdistan, an umbrella  organization which includes the PKK, told the Turkish newspaper Vatan that  there are many indications that Iran is trying to “oppose the process  strategically and to sabotage it,” adding, “We have to take precautions against  this.”

The Turkish daily Milliyet quoted an Iranian diplomat as saying that Iran would not allow PKK insurgents of  Iranian origin to return to their country. Moreover, Milliyet reported  that Iran offered the PKK military aid for not withdrawing, although the Iranian  Embassy in Ankara denied the claim.

The Syrian crisis in 2011 ended the counter-terrorism cooperation between  Iran, Syria and Turkey against the PKK and isolated Turkey in its fight against  the PKK, with the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party taking over control of  large chunks of northern Syria as a result of the Syrian revolution. But the new  cease-fire process could change this power balance to the advantage of both  Turkey and the PKK.

Shamal Bishir, a soft-spoken insurgent and head of foreign relations of the  Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), spoke to Al-Monitor on the  sidelines of the PKK media conference in Kandil. He said that Iran has not  yet made any official statements, but the military authorities are not satisfied  with this process, and he fears that will lead to more clashes.

“The reason is, that Iran believes that they will be more isolated in the  region,” he said, adding that if Turkey solves the Kurdish question, “Iran will  be alone in the future in their struggle against the Kurdish movement and their  denial policy of the Kurdish question. “

“The Iranian government knows that this process in Turkey is based on the  situation the Kurds have reached in Syria, and at the same time, this process in  Turkey will have an impact on relations between Kurds and Turks in Syria and the  future stance of the Kurds in Syria. Iran knows that the stance against the  Assad regime will lead to the recognition of the Kurdish question by Syria, and  this will open ways to the fall of the Assad regime, the most important ally of  the Iranian government in the region.”

According to Bishir, the process will also lead to a legalization of the  Kurdish political arm of the PKK, which is blacklisted as a terrorist  organization internationally, and that it could lead the PKK and its affiliates  to develop relations with the international community.

“They will be able to establish relations with NATO, the US and EU member  states,” he said. “The last statements of EU countries to the Syrian opposition,  to buy oil from the Syrian opposition, is one of those signals. The Kurds will  come to the economic sphere.”

The Kurdish spokesman thinks the process could also influence relations  between the Turkish-speaking minority of Azeris in Iran and the Kurds, saying,  “If there is Kurdish and Turkish brotherhood, there could be brotherhood of  Azeris and Kurds.”

Each of them had their own governments between 1945 and 1946, until the  Iranian government reasserted control over both Azeri and Kurdish areas in  Iran.

The Iranian state media has been critical of the process and emphasizes that  Kurds do not trust the Turkish government.

The Iranian semi-official Fars News Agency claimed in January that “Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has started  implementing a US and Israeli plan to provoke Iran’s Kurdish population against  the government in Tehran through the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.”

The conservative Iranian newspaper Jomhuri-ye Eslami published  a piece by Ali Rezakaram on April 28, suggesting that Turkey wants to make the  Kurdistan region of Iraq its new ally in the region and “create tension in the  Iranian Kurdish regions through the Iraqi Kurdistan” and “align the Syrian Kurds  with itself against [Syria’s] government.”

Kamil Meresene, PJAK’s foreign-relations officer in Sweden, told  Al-Monitor that PJAK believes that this process will affect the Kurds  in Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

“Peace between the Turkish and the Kurdish people will lead to improved  relations between Turkey and the Kurds of Western Kurdistan [northern Syria] and  the Kurds of Southern Kurdistan [Northern Iraq], which in turn will strengthen  PJAK’s struggle in Iran.”

But despite this, PJAK still offers Iran an olive branch. Meresene said, “We  have suggested a peaceful solution and dialogue to Iran. If Iran continues with  the current cease-fire, ends the repression of political prisoners and of the  people and shows readiness to solve the Kurdish issue and the issues of other  peoples in Iran as well as the issue of democracy, then Iran will democratize  and take part in a future new Middle East.”

But, Meresene warned, “If Iran continues with its oppressive policies, then  Iran will not be able to withstand the democratic struggle of the Kurdish  people.”

Wladimir van Wilgenburg/Al Monitor