“Were Turkey to send ground troops into Syria, NATO officials are increasingly concerned that the alliance could get dragged into a direct armed conflict with the Russians. Recent shelling of the Azaz corridor by Ankara underscores the fact that Erdogan would rather be defeated in battle than allow Russia to roll up rebels at Aleppo and proclaim vitctory. That sets the stage for an epic confrontation between the Czar and the Sultan.”
If you want our take – and let’s face it, you must because that’s why you’re here – we wouldn’t put too much faith in today’s announced Syrian “ceasefire” agreement.
Although the deal calls for the cessation of hostilities as of Saturday at midnight, you shouldn’t expect the Russians and the Iranians to halt their advance on Aleppo and likewise, you shouldn’t expect Turkey to stop shelling the Azaz corridor in a largely transparent effort to keep the supply lines to the rebels open.
The stakes are simply too high now. As we’ve explained exhaustively, the fall of Aleppo to Hezbollah and the Russians would for all intents and purposes be the end of the rebellion. Assad would once again control the bulk of the country’s urban backbone in the west and that would mean his rule would be effectively restored.
Additionally, don’t expect Hezbollah to simply pack up and head back to Lebanon once the rebels are defeated. Iran will most likely keep Hassan Nasrallah’s army in place to provide security as well as members of the various Shiite militias the Quds called over from Iraq. Similarly, the Russians won’t be going anywhere either. Vladimir Putin now has an air base and a naval base in Syria and The Kremlin will want to protect those installations vociferously during what is likely to be a turbulent couple of years following the demise of the rebel cause.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia know all of this and they’re fuming mad. The last thing Saudi Arabia wants is for Tehran to preserve the Shiite crescent and the supply line to Lebanon and Turkey is now in a bitter feud with the Russians following Erdogan’s ill-fated move to down an Su-24 near the border on November 24.
Both Riyadh and Ankara have indicated that they would participate in ground operations in Syria and most recently, the Turks have been busy shelling the Syrian Kurds to keep what’s left of the supply lines to the rebels open and prevent the Russian-backed YPG from consolidating territorial gains and uniting a Kurdish proto-state on Turkey’s border.
All of the above has NATO rattled, but the thing that worries the alliance the most is the possibility that Turkey will end up in an armed, direct confrontation with Russia. Were Russia to attack Turkey, NATO would be obligated to defend Ankara but that defense would mean going to war with Moscow and, most likely, with Iran.
Below, find some insightful – if slightly biased – commentary from Der Spiegel on NATO’s “Article 5” problem.
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From “Putin Vs. Erdogan: NATO Concerned Over Possible Russia-Turkey Hostiities” as published in Der Spiegel
It was a year deep in the Cold War, a time when the world was closer to nuclear war than ever. There were myriad provocations, red lines were violated, airspace was infringed upon and a plane was shot down.
The situation was such that an accidentally fired missile or a submarine captain losing his cool would have been enough to trigger World War III. It was 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis — an incident the current Russian prime minister finds himself reminded of today. At the Munich Security Conference last weekend, Dimitri Medvedev invoked the danger of a new Cold War. “Sometimes I think, are we in 2016 or 1962?”
Officials in Berlin have likewise been struck recently by a strange sense of déjà vu.
Syria is the Cuba of 2016 and the risk of an international confrontation there is growing by the day.
Officials in Angela Merkel’s Chancellery in Berlin are concerned about how close NATO has already come to a conflict with Russia. Indeed, Syria could become a vital test case for the military alliance. But the situation is complex: In order to thwart Putin, NATO must make it clear that it stands behind its member states in their moment of need. Yet NATO also wants to avoid a military conflict with Russia at all costs.
Officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the situation between Ankara and Moscow as being extremely volatile. “The armed forces of the two states are both active in fierce fighting on the Turkish-Syrian border, in some cases just a few kilometers from each other,” one NATO official says.
Since Russia became a party to the war in Syria at the end of September, there has been a significant risk of open confrontation between Moscow and Ankara. Russia has thrown its support behind the troops loyal to Syria’s unscrupulous dictator Bashar Assad while Turkey is supporting the rebels who would like to topple his autocracy.
The conflict intensified at the end of November when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane and now Putin has forged an alliance with the Syrian Kurds, Erdogan’s archenemies. The Turkish president holds the Syrian Kurds responsible for the attack on Wednesday in the Turkish capital, which saw an explosion in central Ankara kill 28 and wound 61. Syrian Kurds have denied responsibility, but the bombing has ratcheted up tensions between Ankara and Moscow even further.
Turkey too has done its part in recent weeks to ratchet up the escalation. Turkish troops are now firing artillery across the border at Kurds in Syria and Ankara has also been thinking out loud about possibly sending ground troops into Syria to take on the Kurds.
That would be a nightmare for the West: Direct fighting between the Kurds and the Turks could mean that Russian troops would be soon to follow. What, though, would happen were a NATO member state to fire at Russian soldiers? Officials in the Chancellery hope that the alliance wouldn’t be directly called on to get involved, as long as the fighting was limited to Syrian territory.
In an effort to prevent further escalation, NATO has made it exceedingly clear to the Turkish government that it cannot count on alliance support should the conflict with Russia head up as a result of a Turkish attack. “NATO cannot allow itself to be pulled into a military escalation with Russia as a result of the recent tensions between Russia and Turkey,” says Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
Should Turkey be responsible for escalation, say officials in both Berlin and Brussels, Ankara would not be able to invoke the NATO treaty. Article 4 of the alliance’s founding treaty grants member states the right to demand consultations “whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” Turkey has already invoked this article once in the Syrian conflict. The result was the stationing of German Patriot missiles on the Syrian border in eastern Turkey.
The decisive article, however, is Article 5, which guarantees that an “armed attack against one or more of (the alliance members) in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” But Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Asselborn notes that “the guarantee is only valid when a member state is clearly attacked.”
“We are not going to pay the price for a war started by the Turks,” says a German diplomat. Because decisions taken by the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s primary decision-making body, must always be unanimous, it is enough for a single country to exercise its veto rights, the official says. But, the official adds, it won’t get that far: there is widespread agreement with the US and most other allies that Turkey would get the cold shoulder in such a case.
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Yes, but as Erdogan advisor Seref Malkoc made clear over the weekend, Ankara is getting fed up with the “cold shoulder” and if there’s anything the Turks aren’t scared to do, it’s act unilaterally.
While NATO might indeed scold Ankara and seek to stay out of an open conflict in the initial stages, it’s unlikely that the alliance would stand idly by should Russia and Turkey actually go to war.
As a reminder, Turkey has already gotten two strikes. Erodgan downed a Russian drone and then shot down a Russian warplane. Turkey is now shelling areas where Russian and Iranian forces are very likely to be operating, if not now, then within a couple of weeks.
We can promise you that when it comes to shooting at Russian assets, be they planes, drones, or soldiers, Turkey will not get a strike three.
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“Everything calls peace, Schalom! Then it will occur – a new Middle East war suddenly flames up, big naval forces are facing hostiley in the Mediterranean – the situation is strained. But the actual firing spark is set on fire in the Balkan: I see a “large one” falling, a bloody dagger lies beside him – then impact is on impact. …”
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