by Pepe Escobar Originally published as What’s Erdogan’s Game in Syria and Turkey, December 7, 2015
The — predictable — reaction across the West over the Russian Defense Ministry’s very serious denunciation of Ankara embedded with ISIS/ISIL/Daesh still begs to be regarded as no less than astonishing.
The actual evidence is not even discussed by Western corporate media. It’s all dismissed as “Russia claims…” Yet not only Sultan Erdogan has been systematically unmasked as a serial liar; the accumulating evidence points to Ankara both as an indirect ally and shady sponsor of the fake “Caliphate.”
Whatever the Atlanticists can come up with to “excuse” the Erdogan system, at least the devastating PR debacle for the “democratic West” is now a fact of life all across the Global South.
At the same time an elaborate shadow play is in progress. NATO issues non-denial denials — after all it can never back off from its usual “Russian aggression” meme — while the Obama administration, predictably, wallows in doublethink; Turkey may not “support” ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, but Turkey must seal the border with Syria anyway.
Sultan of Divide and Rule
Since Gezi Park it’s clear the AKP model for Turkey has derailed into a Sultanate dictatorship with a slight electoral veneer. Divide and Rule is the norm.
Sultan Erdogan’s bete noire, internally, is the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Erdogan wants Kurds — a substantial 20% of the overall population — to choose between the AKP’s Islamist take on Turkish nationalism and the HDP’s Kurdish nationalism with a leftist feel. He’s playing Kurds against Turks no holds barred.
South of the border, Erdogan actively supports Salafi “moderate rebels,” especially his fifth column Turkmen, heavily infiltrated by Turkish fascists of the Grey Wolves kind, in northwest Syria. But Ankara is clever enough not to — directly — support ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Turkmen have struck de facto alliances with Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria. NATO covers Erdogan’s back.
Russia’s entrance with — literally — a bang in the Syrian war theatre blew up Erdogan strategys to smithereens. Couple that with the Obama administration’s penchant to support Kurds across “Syraq.”
The only thing Erdogan wants from NATO is a “safe zone” — an euphemism for a no-fly zone that Ankara will use to prevent YPG Syrian Kurds from unifying their three cantons along the Turkish-Syrian border. For Erdogan, the prospect of Kurds preventing Turks from providing logistical bases and weapons to the whole Jabhat al-Nusra galaxy, and of course ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, is anathema.
So Erdogan had been using the Turkmen against the YPG. Russia went for the jugular. And the Sultan, predictably, went bonkers.
Russia’s strategy — coordinated with the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) — will only intensify. The priority is to completely rout Turkmen and al-Nusra all across the Bayirbucak region. Two objectives are crucial. 1) to secure Latakia and thus Russia’s Hmeymim air base, and 2) to get rid of the Chechens, Uzbeks and Uyghurs infiltrated among the Turkmen (crucial for Moscow, aware of the “900 km from Aleppo to Grozny” syndrome, and also for China.)
As for the notion that Erdogan will now abandon his Turkmen strategy and start fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, that’s a myth. Erdogan will never accept the American support for the YPG. The thing is there’s not much he can do about it.
Sultan Changes the Subject
The downing of the Su-24 was a crude attempt by Erdogan to force NATO to choose his Turkmen/al-Nusra/anti-Kurd strategy instead of any possible coordination with Russia to fight ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
Talk about a monumental blowback; Erdogan handed Moscow on a plate the deployment of the S-400s to Hmeymim. Short-term, this means any Turkish F-16 entertaining funny ideas over Syrian skies will be summarily shot down. Mid-term, this means the “Assad must go” obsession is now six feet under. But the cherry in the cake is long-term; Russia has solidified a permanent strategic stake in the eastern Mediterranean.
Across the battlefield, the most important development is that Russia, and not Iran, has taken over tactics, planning operations and also re-equipping the SAA with everything from 152-millimeter MTSA-B guns to the absolutely devastating TOS-1A Solnitsa rocket launcher, able to fire 30 220-mm thermobaric (incendiary) rockets in a single salvo.
Freshly arrived Russian Marines are also about to advise the SAA counter-offensive against Daesh in Tadmur, western Palmyra.
The Russian tactic is essentially to blow everything up, big time. Of course this implies a serious risk of civilian casualties — something that can only be alleviated by good ground intel, provided by the SAA. It’s the SAA that is actually capturing those areas on the ground.
With his back against the wall in Syria, Erdogan — what else — changed the subject and made a play in Iraq, via the now famous “incursion” of alleged 150 Turkish troops along with 20-25 tanks.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu swears Ankara had been “invited” in by the Nineveh provincial government, with Baghdad’s approval (a bald-faced lie). A spokesman for the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq said everything is legit.
Turkish daily Hurriyet spun it as Ankara holding a permanent military base in Bashiqa, near Mosul, to train Peshmerga forces, a deal signed between KRG President Massoud Barzani and Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu earlier last month.
But Ankara, we got a (huge) problem. Mosul and Bashiqa are not even part of the KRG.
So this has nothing to do with training Peshmerga — as much as Erdogan and the AKP heavily hedge their Kurd hatred: the KRG racket and the Peshmerga are “good Kurds,” while the PYD/YPG and the PKK are “bad Kurds.”
When in doubt, follow the oil. The Barzani Mob is selling oil that belongs to Baghdad to Turkey — illegally. They literally own the oil racket in the KRG; and they make a killing, thanks to cozy relations with “partner.”
It has been widely proved that Erdogan’s son-in-law cum Energy Minister Berat Albayrak holds the exclusive rights to move KRG oil through Turkey. Following evidence collected by the Russian Defense Ministry, Daesh stolen oil may well be mixed with KRG oil along the way. And a key beneficiary of the whole scheme is Erdogan’s son Bilal, a.k.a. Mini Me, through his BMZ shipping company which delivers the oil mostly to Israel. Mini Me is now self-exiled in Bologna, Italy, where he manages untraceable amounts of cash safely ensconced in Swiss bank accounts.
Obviously none of this is seriously examined in Atlanticist circles, thus providing Erdogan with some solace; if the stolen Syrian oil racket may be moribund, the Iraqi side of the op seems to be untouched.
So what we have now in effect is Turkey “violating” the borders of Iraq (remember those famous “17 seconds”?). Baghdad is actually part of the “4+1” coalition (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, plus Hezbollah). Turkey knows it. The “incursion” is yet one more — serious — provocation. If Russia — and Iran — decide that’s one too many, Erdogan’s oil racket protecting tanks better get ready to meet their maker.