Turkish and Russian Media Boiling About Approaching War
Reading translations of the Turkish and Russian media lately, and the crescendo of war is increasingly apparent. A few selections:
Gazprom-owned, editorially independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy on 26 July
[Presenter] The parents of conscripts from St Petersburg are concerned that soldiers conscripted last autumn have been sent onboard Russian ships to the Syrian coast. From the legal point of view, there are no violations here but the families are anxious for their children’s safety, the head of the Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg organization, Ella Polyakova, has told us.
[Polyakova] The Soldiers’ Mothers hotline has been receiving calls from concerned parents, saying that their children have seen sent from Sevastopol, from Kazachya Bukhta [Bay], to Syria. To our great regret, the ban on sending conscripts abroad has been cancelled in Russia. It happened post factum, after the war [with Georgia] in 2008. There was a decree from President Medvedev to this effect.
We have sent an official inquiry to the [Navy] commander-in-chief, to the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office, to the State Duma’s Defence Committee, asking them – we do understand that there is a civil war going on there [in Syria] – on whose side our amphibious warship will be, what it will be doing there.
[Presenter] There are currently 10 Russian warships in the Mediterranean. Some of them are carrying marine units with TOE [table of organization and equipment] weapons, Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Viktor Chirkov announced a couple of minutes ago. According to him, the ships are performing the tasks of scheduled combat training and, as he has just said, these warships do not plan to enter the Syrian port of Tartus.
Today’s Zaman website on 26 July
Column by Emre Uslu: “What is Emerging Out of Syria: A Kurdish State or a PKK [Kurdistan People's Congress, KGK] State?”]
As the developments rapidly unfold in Syria, the Turkish media is in a panic. Some suggest that what is emerging in Syria is a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) [Kurdistan People's Congress, KGK, formerly PKK] state, where the PKK controls every aspect of the newly emerging autonomous region, whereas some influential liberals try to portray the developments as a Kurdish autonomous region.
In reality, a PKK state is in fact emerging from Syria. The PKK has been working towards this end for a year.
Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta on 25 July
Article by Pavel Felgengauer: “Periodic Table of Chemical Arguments. Our Observer Suggests That There Are 10 Days Left to Avert a War”
Jihad Makdissi, the official Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman, threatened at a news conference in Damascus that “Syria could utilize chemical weapons in the event of foreign aggression” and simultaneously promised that available weapons of mass destruction “will not be utilized against peaceful civilians.” But it is not clear who specifically the Syrian leaders besieged in their residences define as “peaceful civilians” in a country where there is not a peaceful corner left anywhere and the two biggest cities with multi-million strong populations that previously the civil war had virtually not reached – the capital Damascus and Aleppo (Haleb) – have turned into a battlefield. President Bashar al-Asad’s regime describes its opponents as “gangs of foreign terrorists and mercenaries,” which does not fit the definition of “peaceful civilians.”
Last week a bomb explosion in Damascus killed or severely wounded many members of the top leadership of the special services and the army, including members of the al-Asad family – people well-known in Moscow who have cooperated with the Russian military and special services. In response the crack Fourth Mechanized Division under the command of al-Asad’s younger brother is carrying out a ruthless operation to purge the suburbs of Damascus of the Free Syrian Army fighters that have infiltrated there, using artillery and combat aircraft in the style of the Russian assault on Groznyy in January 2000 and turning city neighbourhoods into a desert. But the insurgents, seeking to escape as best they can the concentrated attacks by the army, which is vastly superior to them in terms of firepower, promptly switched their main efforts to the north, to Aleppo. The regime’s forces are dangerously stretched and are clearly not coping with the challenge of maintaining contr! ol in different parts of Syria at the same time. The Syrian middle class in Damascus and Aleppo, who have been comparatively loyal until recently, are now fleeing en masse from the cities and the country to wherever they can – to Lebanon, Turkey, or Jordan. And even if both Damascus and Aleppo are successfully purged somehow, they will now be ruins rather than flourishing cities. Syria is on the verge of total collapse and a humanitarian disaster, and the panic-stricken regime is threatening WMD and could actually use them, as Saddam Husayn did against Kurdish insurgents in 1988.
The Syrian military has chemical weapons (mustard gas, sarin, saman, and other nerve gases) and also delivery systems: artillery shells, overhead spray containers, and “special” warheads for operational-tactical ballistic missiles. Since the arsenal was prepared primarily for the possibility of a war with Israel in conditions of total enemy air superiority, the most important part of the arsenal for the Syrian military consists of chemical warheads for Soviet Luna-M 9M21 missiles with a range of 70 kilometres (Syria has 18 sets of these), for the newer and more accurate Tochka 9M79 tactical missile with a range of 70 kilometres (18 sets), and for the R-17 8K14 (Scud-B) missile with a range of 300 kilometres (more than 20 launchers). The Syrians also have several Scud-C systems with a range of 550 kilometres that were produced in the DPRK on the basis of the Soviet R-17. In principle the numerous Syrian multiple-launch missile systems, including Grad and Uragan! systems, are also totally capable of operating as a system for delivering chemical WMD.
The Scud-B (R-17) is a reliable weapon and carries a one-tonne warhead but is characterized by extremely poor accuracy. So the R-17 system was regarded in our Armed Forces primarily as a means for delivering chemical and nuclear WMD. Formally the R-17, Luna-M, and Tochka were supplied for export, including to Syria, with a high-explosive blast fragmen tation warhead. But the Syrians may have converted them to deliver WMD themselves or, most likely, with assistance from the DPRK or Iran. Whether this is actually the case is no longer important today – in the wake of Makdissi’s threats Syria’s neighbours (primarily Turkey and Israel) have to assume the worst – a direct threat of missile attacks using chemical (and possibly biological) WMD. In addition, a very big US Air Force strategic base – Incirlik in Turkey with a garrison of 5,000 personnel and their families too – lies within the affected zone. Incirlik is adjacent to one of the biggest Turkish cities – Ad! ana – 120 kilometres from the Syrian border and 200 kilometres from Aleppo, where vicious fighting is taking place. Incirlik has two schools for the children of American service personnel. Underground bunkers in Incirlik house up to 70 B-61 tactical thermonuclear bombs with a yield of between 0.3 and 170 kilotonnes, of which 50 are intended for the American airborne delivery platforms that would have to be redeployed to the region in the event of a crisis, and up to 20 B-61s for the Turks – to carry out strikes using pre-prepared F-16 fighter bombers. All of this is now under threat of a possible Syrian chemical missile attack, against which Incirlik and Turkish territory as a whole are currently totally unprotected.
…Today there is no direct threat of outside intervention in the Syrian conflict. The NATO allies (the United States) need to first to deploy a regional missile defence system – to relocate Patriot RAS-3 surface-to-air missile systems to Turkey to protect Incirlik and Turkish cities and troops. American ships with the Aegis command and control system and SM-3 interceptor missiles need to be brought up. Nuclear submarines and surface ships with hundreds of cruise missiles are also needed to deliver a first disabling strike at especially important unprotected targets. Combat aircraft, reconnaissance and electronic warfare systems, and refueling aircraft need to be deployed at bases in Turkey and the sovereign British bases on Cyprus. The families of American service personnel need to be evacuated from Turkey. Even at an expedited pace 10 days or two weeks or so are needed allowing for the fact that Turkey is clearly prepared to provide a mass of ground forces and ! the rest can be redeployed comparatively rapidly by air and sea. But as yet there is no concentration of allied (American) forces in the region; the generals in the Pentagon do not want to get sucked into Syria, and Barack Obama definitely does not need a new exotic war ahead of the elections. A month ago NATO curtly rejected Erdogan and his intervention plans.
The situation is now changing – US allies in the region and actual Americans in Incirlik are being threatened with WMD. The Pentagon’s angry response to the Syrians was that that they should not dare to think about threatening chemical weapons, but words alone will most likely not cut it on this occasion – it will be necessary to start redeploying forces: missile defence forces to begin with, to be inevitably followed by the deployment of several successive components. When the forces have been deployed, any random incident could trigger an immediate large-scale confrontation, and there will be plenty of people willing to strike the match. It looks like the panic-str icken regime in Damascus has itself started an accelerated countdown to its own destruction. So Russia should immediately start doing what it should have done a long time ago – carrying out an operation to evacuate its own citizens and military experts from Syria.