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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
November 25, 2015

Publication: Putin in Syria
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Jets Reportedly Bomb Aid Convoy Near Turkish Border
The Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation reports that an aid convoy has been bombed, reportedly by Russian jets, in the Syrian border town of Azaz.

While the English and Turkish IHH Twitter accounts blamed the Russian Air Force for the attack, a spokesman for the NGO told Reuters that there was no information as to who had conducted the air strike:

"Our teams helped to extinguish the fire... The trucks do not belong to us and there is no information on who bombed them," Mustafa Ozbek, an Istanbul-based official from the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), told Reuters. 

Reuters reports that the head of the border crossing point just northeast of Azaz said that a truck trailer garage had also been struck, killing three people.

This was echoed by reports from Syrian journalist Hadi Alabdallah: 

The safe zone plan referred to by Alabdallah was reported on today by London-based Qatari-owned news outlet al-Araby al-Jadeed:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday at a reception at the Presidential Palace in Ankara that a "humanitarian safe zone" will soon be realised in northern Syria with allies.

"Turkey in cooperation with its allies will soon set up a humanitarian safe zone between Jarablous and the Mediterranean coast to prevent any more humanitarian disasters from happening again and to provide a place for refugees who want to live in their country," Erdogan said.

A defected Syrian army general has told an al-Araby al-Jadeed correspondent that the safe zone will be put into place "within the next few days".

"The safe zone will extend from Jarabulus on the Euphrates river until the city of Azaz north of Aleppo," said Major-General Mohammad al-Hajj.

"Turkey thinks [the zone] will stem the flow of Syrian refugees into Turkey, sever Kurdish communications between Kobani and Afrin and protect its southern border in cooperation with several pro-Turkish opposition factions," Hajj said.

The major-general said it was unlikely the tensions between Turkey and Russia would escalate to direct confrontation because "the stakes are too high".

"Turkey will go ahead with its plans to set up the safe zone after it reaches certain understandings with Russia," Hajj said. 

As it seems highly unlikely that any other air force would conduct air strikes on rebel-held territory in this area of Syria, far from ISIS-control, the attack on Azaz indicates that such "understandings with Russia" are unlikely right now.

Furthermore, IHH is widely reported to be associated with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

-- Pierre Vaux
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Protesters Stone Turkish Embassy In Moscow

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Not Backing Down - Turkey Vows To Establish a Safe Zone In Northern Syria After Confrontation With Russia

Following yesterday's shooting down of a Russian medium bomber by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkey will establish a "humanitarian safe zone" along the border inside Syria. Al-Araby reports:

"Turkey in cooperation with its allies will soon set up a humanitarian safe zone between Jarablous and the Mediterranean coast to prevent any more humanitarian disasters from happening again and to provide a place for refugees who want to live in their country," Erdogan said.

A defected Syrian army general has told an al-Araby al-Jadeed correspondent that the safe zone will be put into place "within the next few days".

"The safe zone will extend from Jarabulus on the Euphrates river until the city of Azaz north of Aleppo," said Major-General Mohammad al-Hajj.

"Turkey thinks [the zone] will stem the flow of Syrian refugees into Turkey, sever Kurdish communications between Kobani and Afrin and protect its southern border in cooperation with several pro-Turkish opposition factions," Hajj said.

The major-general said it was unlikely the tensions between Turkey and Russia would escalate to direct confrontation because "the stakes are too high".

"Turkey will go ahead with its plans to set up the safe zone after it reaches certain understandings with Russia," Hajj said.

Two weeks ago Erdogan made similar statements, that a humanitarian safe zone would soon be established by Turkey and its allies.

Such a zone is not without precedent.

Following several cross-border incidents, including the shooting down of a Turkish reconnaissance jet by Assad forces in June 2012, Turkey vowed to take a much harder stand against the Assad regime. It moved its artillery to the border, placed its jets and helicopters on high alert, and even conducted bombing raids against regime troops close to the border. Turkey told Assad that any troop or aircraft movement within 15 miles of the border would be targeted by Turkish forces. By mid-October, Syrian rebels, as if on cue, vastly expanded the amount of territory they controlled in northern Syria, effectively creating a state in Idlib province and a narrow buffer zone, supported by Turkey, within this area.

In September 2013, less than a month after the Syrian regime launched a chemical weapons attack against his own people in Damascus, killing over 1,000, just two weeks after President Obama told the American people that he would ask Congress to authorize air strikes against the Assad regime (thus surprising and breaking his promises to his allies that the US would respond immediately if Assad crossed the "red line" and used chemical weapons), Turkey shot down a Syrian helicopter after they said it crossed the border in the exact same area where the Russian Su-24 was shot down. An analysis at the time done by this author concluded that while the helicopter may have entered Turkish airspace, Turkish fighters shot it down when it was 4 kilometers deep inside Syria. Turkey, justified or not, was sending a message:



Turkey Shoots Down A Syrian Helicopter - In Syrian Airspace

On Monday, the Syrian opposition reported that someone had shot down a Syrian military helicopter in Lattakia, in the mountains west of Jisr al Shughour, or in other words where the rebel stronghold of Idlib borders the regime's strongholds nearer to the coast.

View full page →
Nov 25, 2015 23:16 (GMT)

But now such a safe zone might mean either open cooperation or open confrontation with Russia which is conducting combat missions in northern Syria. Is Turkey willing and able to do such a thing, and would they have any support from their NATO allies in the effort?

Today there have been attacks on Turkey's embassy in Russia...

...and Russia appears to have bombed a Turkish humanitarian NGO in northern Syria:

The safe bet is that Erdogan means business and he will enforce a buffer zone in Syria. He'll have to respond in order to not appear weak in the face of Russian escalation.

Furthermore, Erdogan has a domestic political reason for taking a harder line on Russia -- one of his main opponents is calling for a de-escalation of tensions with Russia.


DIPLOMACY - CHP leader demands Turkey, Russia de-escalate tension

Turkey's main opposition leader has called on the leaders of both Turkey and Russia to defuse tensions after the downing of a Russian jetfighter by a Turkish F-16 on Nov. 24. "No country should violate Turkey's border and territorial integrity. Everyone should be careful about it. We have relations rooted in history with Russia.

View full page →
Nov 25, 2015 23:20 (GMT)
-- James Miller
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
News That Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Qassem Soleimani Injured In Syria Still Unconfirmed, Despite News Stories

Two days ago The Interpreter posted a translation of a report that said that the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) al Quds force, which is leading Iran's intervention in Syria, was injured in fighting in Syria.

As we pointed out, such rumors are not rare, though this one seemed slightly more credible as the pattern of fighting near Aleppo and elsewhere could open the possibility of Soleimani being injured in any one of the recent IRGC military defeats.

One of Al Arabiya's sources on that story is the “Secrets of Iran” Website, which is close to the "National Council of Iran Resistance," run by the People's Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK - not a reliable source of information. The MEK, an organization that is still on terrorist watch lists in some countries, often produces fake news to discredit the Iranian regime (in sharp contrast with more reliable Iranian opposition outlets).

Today, AFP is also carrying the headline that he was lightly injured in Syria, relying on an unnamed security source and the dubious-but-often-cited Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Skeptics might note that this story is as thinly sourced, or even more thinly sourced, than the Arabic news reporting on this days ago.

AlQuds.co.uk,  or Al Quds Al Arabi, which has no relation to the al Quds force but is run by Palestinian refugees, has posted a translation of the same story.

The Iranian government and state media outlets have denied the rumor that Soleimani is injured.

In other words, while it's still possible that Qassem Soleimani was hurt in combat in Syria, this news is still very much unconfirmed.

-- James Miller

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Surviving Su-24 Navigator Claims Flight Did Not Enter Turkish Airspace, No Warnings Given

The state-owned TASS news agency reports that Konstantin Murakhtin, the navigator of the Sukhoi Su-24 jet that was shot down yesterday morning, has told journalists that the aircraft did not enter Turkish airspace. Nor, he claimed, did the crew receive any warnings from the Turkish Air Force.

Speaking to Rossiya 1 television, Murakhtin said (translated by The Interpreter):

"In fact there was no warning whatsoever. Neither radio or visual. There was no contact at all. Therefore we went on with our combat plan as normal. You have to understand the speed of the bomber and of an F-16 fighter. If they had wanted to warn us, they could have presented themselves to us on a parallel course. But there was nothing of the sort. And indeed, the missile flew into our tail suddenly... We didn't even make visual contact so as to carry out evasive maneuvers."

When asked if their Su-24 had crossed the border, he replied:

"No, it's impossible, not even for a second, furthermore we were flying at an altitude of around 6 thousand meters, the weather was clear, as we say in our slang "million by million." I was monitoring all of our flight, until the moment of the missiles explosion. I perfectly on the map where the border was and where we were. There was not even a threat of entering Turkey."

Murakhtin said that he and his pilot had flown over the area of the incident numerous times and that he knew it "like the back of his hand." 

Turkey and the US military claim that 10 radio warnings were given before the F-16s opened fire. According to a radar track published yesterday by Ankara, the Russian flight briefly crossed through Turkish airspace before being shot down.

-- Pierre Vaux


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