The Russian - Turkey Tinder Box in Syria
Russia has its own agenda. It is a friend to the West only when it benefits them, much like many friends we have all had in our lives. Putin has decided for the next few years, it no longer benefits Russia to be a friend of the West, but be more of a bully that only tolerates the West. In a recent RAND study and wargame, Russian forces easily retook the Baltic nations now under NATO within three days! The Baltic forces simply were overwhelmed and NATO could do little to prevent Russian forces. Not very reassuring for NATO, which is going be tested when Turkey and Russia clash in Syria.
It has already happened. Turkey shot down a Russian MiG when it strayed across the border. Putin has not forgotten and is simmering to find a way to cause trouble. After that incident, the Russians deployed top-of-line S-400 ground-to-air missile batteries and advanced Sukhoi Su-35 warplanes to their base in Latakia near the Turkish border. Turkey had asked NATO month ago for a No-fly zone over the Northern areas of Syria to allow refugees a safe haven, but Obama was too afraid to allow it. Turkey has since simmered with being a NATO member and publicly said what is the point of being a member, the US cannot be trusted to have our back. One cannot disagree.
There is a lot of mistrust between Russia, Turkey, and the US, all bidding for Syria resolution! This is a horrible mix. Turkey and Russia and the US do are not agreeing on Syrian targets, so, they are not allies but each has its own agenda. Turkey is not in favor of arming the Kurds, who they consider terrorists also, yet, the US considers the only effective ground force against ISIS. Russia supports Assad and the Syrian army and does not target ISIS, but the Free Syrian fighters who are supported by NATO.
Turkey is increasingly frustrated with being a NATO member. Russia senses this and Putin is going to test this as a payback for the shooting down of the MiG. Russian air defenses have already curtailed Turkish aircraft to stay within their borders. Angered by this, Turkey recently conducted a two-our cross-border artillery bombardment on Saturday, Feb. 13, targeting Syrian army forces positioned around the northern Syrian town of Azaz and the Kurdish YPG. The Kurds had recently retook an airbase some six km from the border supported by Russian aircraft. Turkey has demanded the Kurds leave the captured airbase or face more consequences and Turkey requested NATO's help. The Turkish bombardment was an indirect attack on Russia's power. If you know history, Syria was part of greater Turkey in WW1, then, Turkey was on the German side and when the war ended, the Allies carved up the Ottoman (Turk) Empire. Turkey, today, has expressed its longing for part of it to be recovered. They offered over a year ago, to send in its military to create a buffer zone along the border if NATO provided air cover. Obama said no.
Now, tensions are simmering between Turkey-Russia. Both countries have what they think are valid reasons in Syria. Putin may create a situation where NATO is tested and then the question is- will NATO come to defend Turkey?