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Russian Presence Ends Turkey's Undeclared No-Fly Zone Over Northern Syria

With Russians in town Turkey can no longer bully the Syrians and prevent them from flying over their own territory

Originally appeared at Asia Times

Something additional, though, needs to be said about Russia and Turkey, which the estimable M.K. Bhadrakumar (India’s past ambassador to Turkey) neglected to say in his note today (“Russia Outflanks Turkey in Syria“).

NATO has protested Russia’s violation of Turkish air space, and the usual commentators have been wheeled out to warn that air-space infractions followed by fighter interception can lead to nasty accidents. But that is beside the point. 

In order to suppress the emergence of a Kurdish zone in northern Syria linked to the de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq, Turkey has been supporting whatever Islamists it find, including ISIS, to harry the Kurds. It has been using fighter cover to favor its Islamist allies in its war on the Kurds.

Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel last week explained the game in AI-Monitor:

Using some imagination, one could foresee the adverse impacts Russia’s move will have on Ankara’s policies on the ground. Ankara is now likely to be forced to end the de facto situation — virtually a no-fly zone — it has enforced casually in border areas since 2012.

In June 2012, after a Turkish reconnaissance plane was shot down by an air defense system in Syria, Ankara announced new rules of engagement, including the interception of Syrian aircraft flying close to Turkish airspace.

There has been no indication so far that these rules of engagement have changed. Since the summer of 2012, Turkish media have occasionally reported incidents of Turkish fighter jets taking off from their bases to chase off Syrian planes and helicopters flying “too close” to the border.

Ankara-backed Islamist groups fighting Assad’s regime have emerged as the main beneficiary of these rules of engagement, which have effectively served as a Turkish air cover for their military and logistical operations in border regions.

NATO let the Turks go rogue in their campaign against the Kurds, who will outnumber ethnic Turks among Turkey’s under-25 population in less than twenty years. The Obama administration has given the Turks a pass even when Turkish actions blatantly violate Washington’s declared policy.

Evidently Putin has decided to punch Erdogan in the nose, just as he punchd Obama in the nose by blasting some American-sponsored Sunni fighters. Someone has to take the fall in the region, and that someone would be Turkey.

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