Moscow once played an indirect role in the arrest of Kurdish militant hero Abdullah Ocalan by the Turkish authorities after the Greeks gave him up, so in retrospect the Russians temporarily siding with their frenemies the Turks against their frenemies the Kurds this past week is not that surprising. Another part of the argument that advocates of Russo-Turkish reconciliation over the YPG's dead bodies, including at Alexandr Dugin's Katehon think tank, would be that the Kurds partially brought this on themselves.
After the failed July coup against Erdogan and the appointment of a new U.S. commander responsible for Syria and Iraq this month, a Kurdish faction attacked the Syrian Arab Army and its militias (likely at Washington's urging) in the town of Hasakah. While Hasakah is majority Kurdish it represents like much of Syria an ethnic patchwork, with Sunni Arabs and Assyrian Christians also living in the area. The land is indeed, as pro-Assad Twitter accounts argue, historically Assyrian, as is some of the territory ISIS controls around Mosul. How a Kurdistan or even a federated Rojava within Syria would be created that would respect the rights of such minorities who've sided with Assad in the face of Saudi-Qatari sponsored jihadist terror (including attempts to surround and starve Shi'a towns to death that the 'Free Syrian Army's' apologists ignore) remains a serious issue. Especially if the YPG were bribed by their American sponsors into the ill-advised Hasakah mini-offensive before realizing, after Turkish F-16s started bombing them, that their American advisers had left them in the lurch.
If the Kremlin is guilty of betraying Kurdish hopes, then Washington has thrown its clients under the bus in favor of keeping Turkey in NATO and preserving the U.S. base at Incirlik to a much worse degree. After all the YPG is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense to fight ISIS, while the CIA and Turkey support the 'moderate' jihadists attacking the YPG. Aware of this embarrassing contradiction, the State Department kindly asked the Turks to stop attacking the YPG on Monday after Vice President Joe Biden demanded last weekend that they withdraw from territory they had paid in blood to liberate from ISIS. To say that Syrian Kurds are pissed with Washington right now would be an understatement, but despite rumors and previous possible Russian arms shipments, the YPG have no other overt patron but the U.S.
While the Russia Analyst does not view the Kurds as angels, they are most definitely better and more humane than ISIS and the 'moderate' jihadists Turkey plans to replace ISIS with...or more accurately, to have ISIS change uniforms and occasionally shave of their beards to become with a convenient switcheroo. Judging by what happened in Jarablus, the bombing of around the town by Turkish F-16s with supposed US air support was largely for show, and no ISIS bodies were put on display for the cameras after journalists accompanied the 'moderate' (Salafist) rebels walking into the town unopposed. After The Daily Beast's resident Salafi-Trotskyite propagandist Michael D. Weiss boasted about the battlefield successes of Turkey's 'moderate rebel' proxies, one wag on Twitter sarcastically tweeted that perhaps the Turks could teach the Iraqis a thing or two about having Daesh magically melt away when they attack. This is precisely what the Russia Analyst predicted would happen here at RogueMoney if the Turks sent their tanks and soldiers across the border -- ISIS would only put up token resistance, while the real fight would be between the Turkish Army and the Kurds.
If and only if the Turks are foolish enough to attack the Syrian Arab Army, then Moscow can bomb them, and shoot down Ankara's F-16s in a (pardon the pun) Turkey shoot that would give NATO's Fighting Falcon jocks a nasty wake up call. As we've written before, the Russians are capable of inflicting horrendous losses on any Turkish invasion force using standoff weapons the Turks don't have. They can also destroy much of Turkey's Navy and Air Forces with massive missile barrages launched across the Black Sea after using their 'off switch' electronic warfare to blind Turkish radars across northern and southern Anatolia. But "let's you and him fight" aka a Russo-Turkish war is precisely the nightmare Putin and his team worked so hard to avoid after last November's pre-planned, allegedly U.S.-ordered shoot down of a SU-24 by the Turks.
Putin sacrificed considerable political capital and overrode his people's centuries-old mistrust of the treacherous, Orthodox nations-oppressing Turk in order to bring Sultan Erdogan in from the cold in St. Petersburg. The Kremlin is not about to be dragged into a huge war neither side can actually win but both sides can lose to the benefit of outside parties (namely the U.S. and Israel). Contrary to certain popular #AltRight memes and the prophecies of Elder Paisios of Athos, Russia is not ready to liberate Constantinople for the Greeks, and the Turks for all their bravado understand invading Crimea is a non-starter when all their ships will get sunk within 48 hours by Russian missiles (even assuming the Greeks don't make a move after much of Turkey's navy and air force out of the way to take back parts of Cyprus illegally occupied by the Turkish Army since 1974).
So, if the Russo-Turkish war prophesied in the late 1980s and early Nineties by Elder Paisios the Athonite is NOT in the cards, then what is happening? Did the 'Turd in the Hummus Bowl' snooker Putin, as some 'hooray patriots' and 'friends of Russia' abroad are saying as well? Was the coup against Erdogan all an elaborate act, or simply as W the Intelligence Insider hinted to us a warning to the Sultan to stick with the Americans and not get too independent (especially with those quiet talks with China about the Bosporus important role in the New Silk Road)?
In this case, the Russia Analyst like his friend The Saker must admit to being perplexed. There are too many 'wheels within wheels' and 'plans within plans' turning for us to recognize just yet who is actually playing whom. The old expression is if you cash in to buy chips at the high roller poker table (ala the James Bond film Casino Royale) and you don't know who is the mark, then you're the mark for the card sharks. Erdogan did not look to us during the coup while dialing in to a TV studio on iPhone Facetime like a man in full control play-acting at being overthrown. The warnings from John Helmer, a former adviser to Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, about nothing Erdogan says regarding his "dear friend Vladimir" being sincere are well taken. It was Tsar Peter the Great the founder of St. Petersburg after all who said 300 plus years ago "Never trust a Turk", an expression that revived in the Russian mind after Putin denounced the "stab in the back" ambush of the SU-24 and its pilot.
In the medium term (read: after January 20, 2017 if President Hillary takes over), Putin has a serious problem on his hands if he is seeking to prevent the zone Turkey is carving out south of Jarablus from turning into a jihadi safe haven for use against Assad. But in the short term, the pressure has been on Washington to keep its NATO ally from killing too many of its Kurdish proxies -- thereby exposing once again to anyone with a brain in the Mideast how worthless America's word is. Putin wasn't the one who promised the YPG Kurds aerial protection against bombing just a few days ago, that was the U.S. commander over Syria and Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend. And it's a lot easier to threaten to shoot down Assad's jets trying to defend Syrian soldiers getting attacked by America's Kurdish allies on the ground in Hasakah apparently, than to defend their 'brothers' in the SDF who are being shelled and bombed by Gen. Townsend's NATO counterpart from Turkey!
Nonetheless, there are analysts that we respect on both sides of the debate over what Turkey will do next and how Russia will respond. Writing for the pro-Turkish rapprochement Moscow think tank Katehon, Andrew Korybko believes Erdogan has received a green light from Damascus and Tehran to do the dirty work they won't or can't accomplish against the Kurds in northern Syria. The goal would be to prevent a fully federalized Syria, which would be an American euphemism for a Kurdish state in Rojava stretching almost from the Med to Iraqi Kurdistan and soon, carving out pieces of Iran and Turkey proper. Another goal would be to 'moderate' the FSA and defeat Daesh by essentially putting a lot of 'ex' ISIS on the Turkish payroll, in much the same way Moscow flipped many Chechens who were fighting against it in the late 1990s and early 2000s over to its side, and the U.S. bribed Anbar's Sunnis to dial down their insurgency against the Americans during the so-called 'Surge' of 2006. That at least, is what Korbyko suggests is the end game here:
For his part, Moscow State University professor and U.S. Navy veteran Mark Sleboda dismisses this is as so much happy talk and spin. Writing for The Duran, London-based former barrister Alexander Mercouris gives us the Sloboda version of what's happening, which is anything but friendly to Moscow's objective of stabilizing (even a de facto partitioned aka federalized Ukraine and Donbass style) Syria:
Which side is right, and which side is wrong here? For the first time in many months, the Russia Analyst is truly in the dark on which way the situation is headed. Like other members of Team Rogue Money including @BanksterSlayer and the Guerrilla we saw a coup coming in Turkey like a stormcloud on the horizon (go back and read our post from August 7, 2015 if you doubt it). But our gut instinct tells us the U.S. is not quite ready to risk direct clashes with the Russians by enforcing a no fly zone over Turkish-occupied northern Syria.
Confused at 'Free Syrian Army' groups long supported by the U.S. AND Turkey supposedly condemning Turkey's incursion into Syria? So are we! Unless of course you realize 'FSA' is merely a flag of convenience for any group that wishes to tell Moscow 'don't bomb us'
In the short term, the Turkish-Kurdish clashes offer Moscow opportunities to achieve some of what it wants in Syria. For example, rumors are rife that many jihadists tired of the Aleppo meatgrinder and getting heavily bombed by the Russian Air Force in a concentrated area of the city have dispersed towards Idlib and the Turkish operation. Perhaps getting a paycheck from the Turks for relatively easy combat with the U.S.-backed SDF/YPG Kurds followed by garrison duty is preferable to getting ambushed by Hezbollah or incinerated by Russian thermite bombs. This past week, several hundred jihadis recently made that rational choice, laying down their arms in the Damascus suburb of Daraya and accepting bus rides under flags of truce with their families to either government resettlement areas or jihadi held Idlib:
For all the talk of 72 virgins, some of the jihadis apparently want to live to fight Assad another day. This is the magnetic draw that Turkey's incursion into Rojava is creating for the jihadists, reducing the seemingly endless pool of manpower Jaesh al-Fatah and other Turkish/Saudi/Qatari backed groups can hurl at the tired men of the SAA. At the same time, Kurdish attacks against Turkish troops are increasing on BOTH sides of the Turkey-Syria border. Should Turkish casualties increase and the SDF/YPG take out more of their tanks with a sudden infusion of anti-tank missiles the Kurds didn't receive to liberate Manbij from ISIS earlier, then suspicions in Ankara and among Erdogan's supporters will only increase that the U.S. is trying to bleed Turkey. As the character Simon Weisz (played by British actor Ian Holm) said to his rival in gun-running Yury Orlov in Lord of War, when Orlov inquired as to why he sold arms to the Iraqis and Iranians during their bloody 1980s war, "What makes you think I don't want both sides to lose?" That fictional quote, by the way, is supposedly based on a real life remark Dr. Henry Kissinger made back in the 1980s about the same conflict.
The Empire of Chaos may be pursuing a strategy of scorched earth and Hobbesian war of all against all, seeking to bleed the Syrians, Iranians, Turks and Russians alike before the Syrian conflict burns out (or The Daily Beast and Allah snackbars forbid, Trump takes office vowing to mop up ISIS by marching to Raqqa alongside the Russians).
If Andrew Korbyko is correct, then the Guerrilla's 'Turd in the Hummus Bowl' has taken on the 'freelancer' role Yury Orlov spoke of in the movie. The 'necessary evil'. Or at least the catalyst for the next round of either the first hints of peace, or escalating war in Syria. Because we doubt the Kurds are going to go away or retreat quietly without killing more Turks. For which side Erdogan is acting as the 'icebreaker' (to use the title of the discredited thesis of Soviet/Russian historian Viktor Suvorov about WWII) in Syria, if not his own outmatched neo-Ottoman Empire, will soon be evident.
Meanwhile, Putin is speaking softly but preparing a big stick in Russia's Southern Military District facing southeastern Ukraine and the Black Sea region that includes Turkey: