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mercredi 25 novembre 2015

Turkish backstabbing of Russia Part 1

 The shooting down of a Russian Air Force SU24 at the Turkish-Syrian border.

Part 1 - #УдарВСпину 

Prelude:  Had the Russians been lulled into a false sense of security in the region; was it largely due to the political change post Paris attacks?  

SU-24 Infographic

If yes to both questions, then I can understand the genuine anger by the Russian government.  It would indeed frame the context for Putin’s comments on being backstabbed.
The Russian mission creep has set in, from an initial expeditionary style force, now is growing in stages with no clear-cut end in sight.  The previous tipping point in the mission’s remit was a direct consequence of the findings that Flight KGL9268 over Sinai was destroyed by a terrorist bomb.  This saw waves of TU-160 bombers and further cruise missiles launched.   I don’t think that Russia is in danger of losing track of what it intends to do in Syria, but the fact that ISIS has a number of countries that financially & militarily underpin it makes the end goal difficult to achieve.  Furthermore, NATO has remained steadfast in its stated policy goals in respect to its relations with Russia & Syria.

The Russian air force group based in Syria had the means to take adequate precaution to protect themselves from being shot down with an air to air missiles and were keenly aware of the threats of manpads, hence the 6000 m flight height.  The fact remains is that the Russian military leadership chose to have some trust in the so called anti-ISIS coalition and to a lessser extent Turkey.

It is certain that Russian air defense operators would have been tracking the Turkish F-16 CAPs, ( as shown in blue above and in yellow loops on a video clip:  ).  Likewise they have EW jamming devices. Were they trying to  minimise any potential for antagonism between themselves & the Turkish military? It is said that the Turkish F-16  were patrolling for over an hour before the missile attack. No information has been made forthcoming on whether the SU 24  itself did detect the F-16 radars, being locked on, (Radar warning receiver RWR) or the other EW systems detecting these or and the missile launch?

The Russians were evidently wary of extensively deploying suitable aircraft interceptors to obtain air superiority in the Syrian skies, because it might have been seen as being counter-productive within the ranks of the US led coalition.  The Russian group in Syria ultimately paid a relatively light price, with only a loss of 2 service personnel, for the “meek & unobstructive” diplomatic & military signals that had been sent out by Moscow.  These signals were taken by Ankara and NATO, as a sign of weakness.  Consequently an emboldened Turkey took the opportunity to strike out at the Russians.  Erdogan was willing to risk a potential war over his Syrian venture.   It may be assumed that he tried to bait NATO into taking account Turkey's interests in the region. Turkey had already got irritated over the US military help for the Kurds.

“In recent months, Turkish fighters jets have intercepted several Russian aircraft that flew close to Turkish airspace and harassment by radar locks were frequently observed.” and the Russians did likewise."

The chief of the main operations department of the Russian General Staff Sergey Rudskoy briefed journalists on the event:
  • “According to accurate data of objective monitoring, our plane did not cross the Turkish border,” 

  • “It is confirmed by the data from Syria’s missile defense system. Moreover, the Hmeymim airfield’s radar surveillance data registered a violation of the Syria airspace by the attacking Turkish jet.”

  • “Presumably, the plane was hit by a short-range missile with an infra-red seeker,” he said.

  • “Objective monitoring devices registered no attempts by the Turkish plane to establish radio or visual contact with our crew.

  • The Su-24 plane was hit by a missile over Syria’s territory. It fell down in the Syrian territory four kilometers off the border.”

Very quickly, the Turkish delegation to the UN wrote a one page letter detailing their version of the events, where it mentions the Russian having transgressed Turkish airspace for 17 seconds, while also stating that it warned the Russian planes 10 times within a 5 minute period.

Just on the basis of these fragments of information, the incident was a well prepared ambush of a Russian jet, based on solely on what it was doing at the time.  As a teenager, I once listened in awe to an intercept of a Soviet Bear by RAF jets.  It was a fairly drawn out process with established military rules of engagement in place.  The convention is that intruding aircraft entering a foreign airspace should be warned, intercepted and eventually escorted outside the violated airspace. This has done countless time during the Cold War and even the Turks know the ‘intrusion’ score card, since they are masters at it themselves, given they regularly violate Greek airspace. [1]  According to the Russians, none of this took place.  Even at the subsequent “extraordinary” NATO meeting in the evening, called by Turkey, some participants were left unimpressed with the nature of the Turkish radio communications excerpts & quality of facts presented.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  This is an astonishing set of highly contradictory information.  The Russian jets weren’t in Turkish airspace long enough to be a credible threat. We are talking about a deliberate, planned interception & shooting down of a jet, by a NATO F 16 fighter. The Turks have predictably come out with lame excuses on the shoot-down, including “defending their airspace” but the gem has to be Erdogan’s statement on CNN Turk:

“Turkish President Erdoğan on downed #Russia plane: We have kinsmen in the area that are being bombed.”

This sheds some light on the whole context.  It is well known that Ankara has a dim view on the Russian air campaign in Syria right from the start. They see the Russians safeguarding President Assad’s position in power, since they have attacked some elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that are deemed to be part of the moderate opposition movement against Assad.   It is the exact policy position as the US & NATO.

 Following the bombing of a civilian airliner over the Sinai, Russia had invoked Article 51 of the UN Charter, in its pursuit of terrorists.   Russia had also received UN endorsement to  tackle IS & Al Nursa in the wake of the Paris attacks, in the form of UNGA resolution 2249 (2015).

The shooting down of the Russian SU 24 follows on the heels of a number of significant events, starting with President Putin set down the cards on the table at the G20 Summit, where he alleged the backbone for Daesh/ISIL’s continued existence was been being financed from 40 countries, including some G20 members. It is should be noted that this was an issue that practically went unnoticed in the West’s mainstream media, which is revealing of the underlying 'priorities' in light of the Paris terror attacks.  This is the start of the first act.

 “I’ve shown our colleagues photos taken from space and from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil and petroleum products." 
Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit.

Act two was the recent bombing by the Russian Air Force of Daesh’s oil facilities & tankers, a highly prized source of revenue for them and their ‘sponsors’.   Turkey’s elite is said to be deeply implicated in the transport & distribution of oil produced in ISIL held areas.[2]
So we can imagine the consternation in some circles in Ankara & Doha when this lucrative money spinner is this week literally bombed to pieces. No other air force had been tasked in the same highly visible manner & intensity, as did the Russian Air Force to cripple this sector.

Act 3: to add to Ankara’s woes, the Russian Air Force was also bombing ‘rebel’ positions held by Turkmen, Erdogan's 'kinsmen'.  This no doubt incensed the Turkish government even more, as it played on the ‘nationalism card’, especially in the Hatay region. This is probable point of no return for Turkey with regards to the unfolding Russian air ops and diplomatic gloves coming off at the G20 summit in Antalya.

Add into this volatile mix, the potential for a long line of tangled webs being weaved in the region, with a strong US presence in Turkey.  Additionally, the coordination centre for the Middle-East regional air operations led by the US and the US-led coalition is in Qatar, at the al-Udeid air base. It is known as the United States Air Force Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC).  Take a moment to look at the picture & read the article:

The CAOC tracks the Russian air operations and the Russian authorities did notify the CAOC last week of imminent air strikes.  Back in October there were a number of high-level contacts not only between the US but also Ankara and Moscow on preventing “unintended air incidents, including collisions.”  Likewise the Russians had a hotline with Turkey.

The hotline failed on the morning of the 24th Nov, as succinctly outlined by the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov:

He added that all evidence says Turkey planned shooting down the Russian jet. So was there a possibility of released Russian flight plans & tracks used to direct the 2 Turkish F-16 towards the 2 SU-24s?  In all probability, the decision to fire a missile at a SU24 did not solely rest in the hands of the pilot, but much higher up and the Russians surely know this.

The Russians in Syrians are probably one of the most surveilled, tracked & monitored groups under the US & NATO’s watch.   The mistrust between the Turks and the Russians was already there as each other traded accusations of locking on their aircraft quite a few times.  On a sideline, notice how now the US is apparently sending over US EA-18 Growlers to Turkey with an Airborne Electronic Attack capacity. There is already an active US presence at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. If that isn’t a hint to Russia, then what is?

The Russians are no longer  taking any chances.  An anti-aircraft missile unit S-400 was delivered, deployed and put on combat duty at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria.    Moreover, they have also brought in the Moskva warship on air defence duties off the Lattakia coast. Meanwhile, Erdogan has reiterated that has said that if Russia violates their airspace again they will give same response.  The stakes in Syria have been raised one notch higher. The Turks have apparently deployed the KORAL Radar Electronic Warfare system,(used for multiple jamming and deception techniques), to counter the latest Russian response.  It remains to be seen what will happen next.

Putin stated in a press conference that Russia gave information on their flights to the US. 
    Just look: we warned our US partners in advance about where our pilots would be operating, when, and at what flight levels. The American side, which heads the coalition that includes Turkey, knew about the location and time of the flights. And that is precisely where and when we were hit.

By establishing a hotline between Ankara & Moscow, in addition to liaising with the COAC in Qatar, Russia’s genuine objectives may have been compromised. No official agreements had been put into place, only a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ not to interfere with each other’s air missions.    That came to an abrupt end with the SU-24 crashing into the Syrian mountains.  It is the Russians who are out on a limb, not the Turks who have the benefit of NATO cover to hide under if the situation gets out of hand.  Oddly, the TU-160 bombers did get fighter cover when they transited Syrian airspace, but not the SU 24s, at the same time the Russians had given prior notification of the air strikes to the COAC in Qatar.

I can see Turkish vested interests trying its best to trip up any consolidation of a well-meaning alliance fighting Daesh on all fronts, in which Russia is trend setter. The fact that Putin had recently publicly alluded to Turkey's little IS financial secrets may have provoked a hostile reaction in Ankara, which culminated in the shooting down of a Russian to distract the world and at the same time try to put Russia on the back foot.

The event bears the hallmarks of a preplanned action to destabilize the Russian air operations at worst and at best drive a wedge between Russia and NATO. Here's a poor joke of a statement that appeared back in August to herald the US & Turkish in the fight against IS:

Turkey and the United States will soon launch a comprehensive war against [the Islamic State

If the Russians took this statement at face value, no wonder they are utterly shocked now at being 'back stabbed'.  The Turkish government does not have the heart to strike at IS, because they see them as being useful & in fact help them. The Turkish air force has carried out more air strikes against the Kurds than IS. Turkey has never been committed to fighting IS at all and has kept its border with the IS controlled territory fully open for more than a year now.

I don’t know how this Turkish back stabbing will affect the notion of a Russo- French partnership that some commentators talked about lately, but the Russians will be more wary about the whole adventure from now on.  Introspection will also be the watchword within the Kremlin.

The latest action by Turkey contradicts completely what happened in 2012, when one of its own F4 Phantom jet was shot down by Syrian air defense off the Lattakia coast.  Back then, President Erdoğan stated that
"A short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack."

  Yet this is precisely what Ankara did to the Russian air force in Syria.

No one in the West mainstream media has cottoned on to the fact that there were press photographers & TV stations on hand to film & photograph the SU 24 falling down.   Listen to the CNN footage of the cameras whirring away.

I’ll finish this article with this extract:

“It underscores the risk of escalation of the crisis into a broader and more intense international conflict absent better coordination between the parties involved, whose objectives are both overlapping and divergent in different ways.”

Part 2 - The NATO angle

[1] With well over 1300 violations of Greek airspace in the period of Jan- Aug 2015 alone.

[2] Erdogan family members are said to be involved in working with ISIS.

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