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Regional geopolitics

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  • Re: Regional geopolitics

    Originally posted by Vrej1915 View Post
    Turkey Must Withdraw “within 24 hours”: Iraq National Security Council
    BY PAUL ANTONOPOULOS
    DECEMBER 6, 2015
    http://www.almasdarnews.com/

    Turkey to Deploy Over 2000 Soldiers to Iraq?
    BY PAUL ANTONOPOULOS
    DECEMBER 6, 2015 MIDDLE


    Al-Masdar a few days ago reported that Turkey had violated Iraq’s territorial integrity by sending a few hundred troops to just north of ISIS’ de facto Iraq capital of Mosul.

    It has now been reported in Turkish media circles that Erdogan is set to escalate the situation further by having in excess of 2000 soldiers from as little a couple hundred currently in Iraq.

    Their role is supposedly to only train the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Sunni Arab militias fighting ISIS.

    There has been no coordination with Baghdad who denounce Turkish military violations.

    This could be in response to help bolster Peshmerga forces as Russia supports rival YPG forces in Syria.

    This is a tense situation as Turkey two weeks shot down a Russian jet that had allegedly violated Turkish airspace for as little as 17 seconds.

    =====
    And here's BBC version:


    Iraq threatens Turkey with UN action over troop deployment
    BBC

    Iraq has threatened to go to the UN if Turkey does not withdraw soldiers it sent to areas near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul within 48 hours.
    Baghdad said the deployment was done without consultation and was a violation of national sovereignty.
    Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu defended the move as routine troop rotation at a pre-established camp.
    Mosul has been under the control of militants from the so-called Islamic State group since last year.
    Turkey deployed hundreds of its forces to the town of Bashiqa to train Iraqi Kurdish forces fighting IS.
    "Iraq has the right to use all available options, including resorting to the UN Security Council if these forces are not withdrawn within 48 hours," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement.
    Mr Davutoglu wrote to Mr Abadi promising not to send further troops but stopped short of agreeing to a withdrawal.
    Turkey enjoys close relations with autonomous Kurdish regions in Iraq, although it views Syrian Kurdish groups over the border as hostile, analysts say.
    The fall of Mosul was a key moment in the rise of IS and a Iraqi government offensive to retake the city has been repeatedly put back.

    Comment


    • Re: Regional geopolitics

      Russian marines in first combat role in Syria
      DEBKAfile December 6, 2015
      DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Russian officers and marine troops were seen Sunday for the first alongside Syrian troops fighting the Islamic State. At least 60 marines arrived in the Homs arena in eastern Syria Saturday. Their officers immediately sat down with commanders of the Syrian army’s 67th Brigade of the 19th Tank Division to determine strategy for taking on ISIS forces in the district. DEBKAfile’s sources add: The Russian advisers are chiefly concerned with charting an offensive for the recapture of Palmyra from ISIS, a mission to which Moscow attaches high importance.

      ======
      Russia brings over heavy T-90 tanks to boost three Syrian warfronts



      On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Russia started transferring dozens of advanced T-90 tanks to Syria, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report. They were moved immediately to two Syrian army fronts fighting rebel forces at the two most important cities, Aleppo and Damascus, and are expected to be sent to beef up the combined Syria, Iranian, Hizballah army poised to recover Palmyra from the Islamic State.
      The shipment to the capital was delivered into the hands of the 4th armored division, Syria’s republican guard commanded by Gen. Ali Maher Assad, the younger brother of President Bashar Assad.
      The attack on Palmyra in country infested by ISIS forces was scheduled to have begun two weeks ago but was delayed for the arrival of the heavy Russian tanks, among other reasons.
      The T-90 weighs 46.5 tons and has a range of 375 kilometers, with an average speed of 45 km per hour under battle conditions or 65 km per hour on roads. It has three layers of defensive systems: composite armor plates on the turret; Kontact-5 third-generation explosive reactive armor on its front, sides, and turret that reduces penetration by kinetic energy bombs; and the “Shtora,” or curtain, an electro-optical active protection system that enables the tank to jam the systems of antitank missiles.
      The T-90 also has 12 smoke mortars, a 125 mm cannon and AT-11 Sniper guided antitank missiles. The tank has proven itself in battle in recent years in Russia’s wars in Georgia and Chechnya against forces not unlike the Syrian rebels.
      Until last week, Russia kept only a few T-90 tanks in Syria, mainly to protect its military bases around Latakia.
      The new shipment, say Western military sources which are monitoring Russian movements, will eventually replace a large part of the Syrian army’s fleet of around 500 operational tanks, mostly T-72s - at least half of which are positioned to defend the capital.
      But the pace of delivery will be dictated above all by the time needed for Russian instructors to retrain Syrian tank crews from scratch in the use of T-90s in battle conditions.
      It should be noted meanwhile that, while the Syrian rebels have antitank missiles able to take out the T-72, they do not have advanced missiles capable of stopping the much heavier, reactively armed T-90. But the Islamic State does, having captured US-made antitank missiles from the Iraqi armored divisions put to flight in June 2014. Some of those advanced missiles may be presumed to have been passed to ISIS forces in Syria.
      For now, the Russian general staff shows no sign of preparing for a wide-scale operation against ISIS in Syria, so the newly-delivered T-90s are not immediately threatened from that quarter.
      As far as Israel is concerned, the main worry is that Russian instructors will also be assigned to train Iranian and Hizballah tank crews in the use of the advanced T-90. Once they get hold of these tanks, they will be able to attain their objective of beefing up the Iranian-Hizballah front against Israeli defenses from southern Syria and the Syrian Golan.
      Israeli finds cause for concern in the constant expansion of the Russian military presence and involvement in Syria. Preparations for a very long stay are signified by new developments every few days. A permanent Russian military presence in Syria would give Iran and Hizballah cover for a standing military buildup in Syria. This would confront Israel’s vital strategic interests with a major challenge.

      Comment


      • Re: Regional geopolitics



        Comment


        • Re: Regional geopolitics

          Yemeni rebels claim third anti-ship missile attack

          Jeremy Binnie, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
          28 October 2015

          Ansar Allah could threaten ships in the Red Sea if Iran supplied it with its Noor and Ghader (pictured) anti-ship missile systems. Source: PA Photos
          Ansar Allah, the Yemeni group that ousted the country's president last year, claimed on 26 October that it had sunk a naval vessel off the coast of Taizz province using an anti-ship missile.

          This was the third time the group claimed to have launched an attack on a naval vessel operated by the Arab coalition that is fighting to reinstall the president. It was also the first such occurrence to be accompanied by footage purportedly showing the targeted warship and the missile being launched.

          The footage initially aired by Al-Masirah TV, a Yemeni channel that supports Ansar Allah, showed one of the United Arab Emirates' (UAE's) Baynunah-class corvettes apparently filmed from another vessel. It later released more footage that clearly showed the Egyptian Navy's Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate Taba (916). Neither vessel was seen being attacked.

          The extended Al-Masirah package also identified a Baynunah corvette and the Saudi replenishment vessel Yunbou as the targets of the attacks supposedly carried out on 7 and 10 October.

          Al-Masirah's footage of the missile being launched was shot at night, making it impossible to identify the system involved. However, it did appear to show a booster motor dropping away from the missile after the launch, which is consistent with the Chinese-made C-802 missile that is in service with the Yemeni Navy.

          Brigadier General Sharaf Luqman, the spokesman for the Yemeni military units allied to Ansar Allah, told Al-Masirah the missile had hit the middle of the vessel and destroyed it. He added that any naval vessels approaching Yemen's coast would meet a similar fate.

          None of the Arab countries participating in the coalition responded to the anti-ship missile attack claims or reported any naval casualties.

          Meanwhile, the UAE-based Sky News Arabia aired footage on 27 October showing an airstrike completely destroying a dhow that - its source said - was smuggling weapons into Yemen.

          Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options ihs.com/contact

          --------

          NB: Today according shiite (anti Saoudi ) sources, the Yemeni army did destroy its 6-th ship with "Katyushas"???
          http://www.almasdarnews.com/article/20212/
          - Remind the major tactical and technological boost of the Egyptian navy, by the acquisition of the 2 Mistral class warships from France, paid by Saoudia.

          Comment


          • Re: Regional geopolitics

            Originally posted by Vrej1915 View Post
            --------

            NB: Today according shiite (anti Saoudi ) sources, the Yemeni army did destroy its 6-th ship with "Katyushas"???
            http://www.almasdarnews.com/article/20212/
            - Remind the major tactical and technological boost of the Egyptian navy, by the acquisition of the 2 Mistral class warships from France, paid by Saoudia.
            Iran Claims Houthis Destroy Saudi or Egyptian Warship Off Yemen

            If true, claim suggests pro-Iranian rebels in Yemen have their hands on sophisticated anti-ship missiles, presenting a game-changing threat.


            By Mark Langfan, Arutz Sheva UN Correspondent
            10/12/2015,
            http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Ne...2#.VmUPIOPqikp

            On Sunday, multiple Iranian news outlets claimed that the Yemeni-based Iranian-proxy Houthi rebels destroyed either a Saudi or an Egyptian warship in the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits, which lies between Yemen to the east and Djibouti and Eritrea on the Horn of Africa.

            The Bab al-Mandab Strait connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. At its narrowest the el-Mandeb Strait is about 16 miles.

            The el-Mandeb Strait is a geo-strategic choke-point and estimated to transit about 3.3 million barrels of oil a day, or about 8% of the world’s oil shipped daily by tanker.

            The Iranian sources claim that the Houthi “forces fired rockets at a Saudi-led coalition warship and destroyed it near al-Mukha coast in the Yemeni province of Ta'iz.” They further alleged that the destroyed warship was named "al-Mahrousa" and belonged to the Egyptian navy.

            A search for that Egyptian ship “al Mahrousa” showed the ship to be the current official yacht of the Egyptian President and not an Egyptian warship.

            Both of the Iranian sources also claim that on Thursday, October 7, the Houthis forces managed to destroy another Saudi warship in the same general area of the el-Mandeb Strait, with reports saying that the sunken ship had repeatedly fired rockets on residential areas in the southwestern province of Ta'izz.

            If the reports are true, as opposed to sheer propaganda, this would represent a dramatic escalation in the war for Yemen that pits the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis against the Saudi Arabian-Sunni coalition.

            The Iranians has developed a highly sophisticated domestically built anti-ship missile system named Noor reverse-engineered off of an original Chinese C-803 design.

            The current Iranian anti-ship missile has a range of about 200 kilometers, so the anti-ship missile could be fired well into the interior of Yemen and still control the el-Mandeb Strait that is only about 30 kilometers. In 2006, Hezbollah successfully hit the INS Hanit, an Israeli warship, with an earlier version of the Iran/Chinese anti-ship missile.

            If these anti-ship missiles have been smuggled into Yemen to the Houthis, this would present the Saudi-led coalition naval forces with a catastrophic game-changing threat as they try to maintain their naval blockade of the Houthis on the West Yemen coast.

            Comment


            • Re: Regional geopolitics

              Morocco sends ground troops to fight in Yemen
              UAE praised for providing crucial military equipment to resistance fighters on western coastline
              http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/yemen/...emen-1.1631786

              Published: 17:04 December 5, 2015 Gulf News
              Gulf News Report


              Dubai: Morocco, as part of the Saudi-led coalition, will send ground troops to fight against the Al Houthi militants in Yemen. Sources said that 1,500 soldiers will be dispatched to help in the efforts to restore the legitimate Yemeni government.

              According to 24.ae, a team of paratroopers will also be sent to fight in the ground offensive. The Moroccan newspaper ‘Al Sabah’ reported that these teams will be transferred within a few days to the King Khalid Air Base in Saudi Arabia. So far, Moroccan operations in Yemen were limited to air strikes with a few F-16 fighter-jets, one of which was shot down in May, killing the pilot.

              The role of Arab coalition forces has been praised by Brigadier General Ahmad Abdullah Turki, Commander of the Third Brigade and Commander of the western sector. He singled out the role UAE forces have played in bringing stability to Aden.

              He said UAE action was not confined to air strikes alone but UAE troops have been active in the liberation of Aden and other southern cities, alongside their “brothers” in the national resistance army.

              “Our Emirati brothers surprised us with their high morale and unique combat skills,” he said.


              He said the UAE provided crucial military equipment to help aid resistance fighters on Yemen’s western coastline.

              Meanwhile, Yemeni sources accused Iran of supplying Al Houthi militants with a new batch of advanced weapons.

              The sources told Al Sharq Al Awsat that the weapons were being smuggled through the provinces of Hadramout, Mahara and Shabwa.

              Ground sources in Taiz say Al Houthis are using new and sophisticated weaponry, some of which they confiscated from Yemeni resistance fighters.

              Comment


              • Re: Regional geopolitics

                Arab coalition prepares for tough ground war
                UAE has contributed the largest and most experienced contingent of ground troops
                December 2, 2015 Gulf News
                Reuters


                Aden: Soldiers from the UAE, part of a Gulf Arab coalition fighting Iran-allied Al Houthi forces in Yemen, are preparing for a tough ground war from their base in the southern port of Aden.

                As thousands of coalition soldiers fight daily battles with the Al Houthis on the front lines, their comrades in Aden are training Yemeni troops and trying to rebuild a functioning state loyal to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

                Saudi Arabia assembled the coalition in March to carry out air strikes against the Al Houthis, whose rapid advance through the country had forced Hadi into exile in Riyadh and sparked fears of Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula.

                Since then, the coalition has ramped up its deployment of ground forces and the UAE, which has contributed the largest and most experienced contingent of ground troops, has taken an increasingly prominent role.

                Brigadier Nasser Mushabab Al Otaibi, the Emirati officer leading the combined land force, said around 4,000 troops from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Sudan were now in Yemen, in the first major Gulf Arab-led intervention.


                As well as fighting on the front lines, coalition soldiers are training around 7,000 Yemeni troops, and plan to begin building a police force in Aden to replace the ragtag local militias who currently man the checkpoints.

                “They have their own army, they are trying to build police, and they have a government in Aden ... it’s a country now,” Al Otaibi said in an interview at the UAE’s military headquarters in Aden.

                Nonetheless, progress on the ground has been slow since the coalition took Aden in July. Al Houthis and their allies still control most populated areas, including the capital Sana’a, and are putting up a tough fight in the important city of Taiz, 180km north-west of Aden.

                “They are very good snipers. They’ve been using guns since they were this big,”
                said one soldier of the Al Houthis, holding his hand out at waist height.

                Al Otaibi said it would take another month or two for the coalition to capture Taiz. After that, with a United Nations-backed peace process barely out of the starting blocks, more battles will surely lie ahead.

                The UAE has poured resources into reconstruction and humanitarian aid in Aden, hoping to build a sustainable economy and set an example of good governance that will turn public opinion against the Al Houthis.

                A team from the UAE’s Red Crescent Society said it had spent almost $100 million (Dh367 million) on power stations alone, and distributed food to 163,000 families.

                “If you walk down the street you will see electricity everywhere, water supply, prices going down,” Otaibi said. He said in Aden the price of flour, the staple food, was less than one sixth what it was in Sana’a.

                Hadi returned from exile last month, pledging to oversee the reconquest of Taiz and making Aden a de facto capital city for the first time since 1990, when the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY or South Yemen) unified with the north.

                Separatist sentiment, suppressed after a failed uprising in 1994, is once again on the rise. The PDRY flag, sporting a socialist star on Arab nationalist colours, is proudly hoisted alongside the UAE and Saudi colours at militia checkpoints around the city.

                And at some point, the coalition will need to turn its attention to the sparsely populated east, where Daesh and Al Qaida are seizing territory and menacing Aden’s flank.

                UAE troops flying home said they would be back in Yemen after a short break.

                There are no signs of war-weariness among the Emirati troops, who see the Yemen campaign as a war of necessity despite its remoteness.

                “We have a mission and we believe it’s the right mission ... we know if we don’t do this fight this time, we’ll do it in five or ten years and it will be harder than now,” Al Otaibi said.

                Comment


                • Re: Regional geopolitics

                  Erdogan’s Continued Hypocrisy: Turkey Violates Iraqi Sovereignty
                  BY PAUL ANTONOPOULOS
                  DECEMBER 7, 2015
                  almasdarnews.com


                  It has taken Turkish President Erdogan less than 2 weeks to demonstrate his hypocrisy. Turkish media has reported that about a few hundred Turkish soldiers along with 20 to 25 tanks and artillery have crossed the border into Iraq and settled in Bashiqa, north-east of the ISIS stronghold in Iraq, Mosul. More questioning are the reports from Turkey’s Anatolia news agency that defend the incursion of Turkish troops as an effort to aid and train the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

                  Haider al-Abadi, Prime Minister of Iraq, hit back at Turkey and called for the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops, tanks and artillery that is had deployed without any permission from Baghdad.

                  He says in a statement: “The Iraqi authorities call on Turkey to immediately withdraw from Iraqi territory. We have confirmation that Turkish forces, numbering about one armoured regiment with a number of tanks and artillery, entered Iraqi territory, allegedly to train Iraqi groups, without a request or authorisation from Iraqi federal authorities.”

                  The most important part of the statement however says that the deployment “is considered a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

                  This territorial violation that Turkey has just conducted in Iraq is the very same justification given to the destruction of the Russian jet less than 2 weeks earlier. The Russian jet had allegedly violated Turkish airspace for a mere 17 seconds providing the excuse for the attack. With NATO’s quick defence of its fellow member, Turkey escaped all international condemnation for the attack.

                  However, as explored in an earlier article ,* Turkish territorial violations is nothing new. Although Turkey immediately stopped all violations against Greek airspace after it downed the Russian jet, it has taken less than two weeks for Turkey to continue its policy of territorial incursions on its neighbours by violating Iraqi sovereignty. This is not the first time Turkey has violated Iraq. It has consistently attacked Kurdish forces within Iraq since 2003.

                  In an online statement, Mr Massoum, Iraq’s President, called on Turkey to take necessary measures “to preserve the country’s sovereignty and independence,” with the full withdrawal of Turkish troops.

                  Shortly after Turkey downed the Russian jet, Obama emboldened Erdogan by stating: “The United States supports Turkey’s right to defend itself and its airspace and its territory.” However, now that Turkey has violated Iraqi territory for a lot longer than 17 seconds, the silence from Washington and NATO is deafening with its hypocrisy.

                  Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, claims that troop rotation was a routine occurrence and that the camp had been set up in coordination with Iraqi authorities. If this is the case, why is the Iraqi leadership so angered by this violation?

                  Davutoglu states: “This camp was established as a training camp for a force of local volunteers fighting terrorism. It has trained more than 2,000 of our Mosul brothers, contributing to the freeing of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorist organisation,” he said in a speech to a labour union that was broadcast live by NTV news channel.



                  Washington admitted on Friday that the United States were well aware of the Turkish deployment, but washed its hands clean to the hypocrisy by saying that the Turkish actions was not a part of the US-coordinated coalition activities against ISIS.

                  It has been revealed that the Kurdish Regional Government asked for Turkish help in which they were happy to respond to. However there was no coordination with the legitimate government in Baghdad about this. One must question how Turkey would respond if the governor of Diyarbakir, the Kurdish majority city in south-eastern Turkey, asked for Iraqi military intervention. The hypocrisy of Erdogan’s policy permeates and will continue to do so as long as Washington allows it to.

                  It is known that Turkey is close with the Kurdish autonomous government in Iraq, despite the fact that Turkey aggressively attack’s PKK forces in Iraqi Kurdistan.

                  The Iraqi President also highlighted that the move is a “violation of international norms, laws and Iraq’s national sovereignty,” and that it will cause further destabilisation. This is evident when taking the head of Iraq’s parliament security and defense committee, Hakim al-Zamili, suggestions into context. He called for airstrikes if Turkish troops and equipment remained in Iraqi territory.

                  Little evidence can be found for the necessity of Turkey’s violation in Iraq other than the fact Ankara is claiming to be helping anti-ISIS fighters in Iraq. This is despite the fact Turkey continues to bomb non-Peshmerga Kurdish fighting forces and facilitates the ISIS oil trade. With this gross violation of Iraqi sovereignty, could it be conceivable that Erdogan is protecting his ISIS oil racket that has been effectively disrupted in Syria by Russia?

                  Just yesterday however, Turkey announced that it will be deploying up to 2000 Turkish troops in Iraq, up from a few hundred. In response, Iraq has given an ultimatum to withdraw within 48 hours or face retaliations. Iranian backed Shi’ite militia Kataib Hezbollah have already called for jihad against Turkish troops illegally stationed in Iraq. It is yet to be seen whether the threats from Baghdad or Kataib Hezbollah will come to fruition.

                  Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has said Allah was punishing “the ruling clique in Turkey by depriving it of reason or logic.” This seems to be especially true when one considers the hypocrisy of the territorial violation by Turkey in Iraq. It can therefore be suggested that this incursion can serve to push Baghdad closer to Moscow, and formally invite Russia to aid in airstrikes against ISIS and install its sophisticated missile systems seen in Syria into Iraq.

                  Will Turkey’s gamble pay off in Iraq, or will it spectacularly fail like in Syria?

                  http://www.almasdarnews.com/article/...s-nothing-new/

                  The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al-Masdar News.

                  Paul Antonopoulos is currently a Candidate for an MA Degree, writing his dissertation on the Saudi-Iranian Geopolitical Rivalry in the Syrian War.

                  You can follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/oulosP

                  Comment


                  • Re: Regional geopolitics

                    Russian-Bullied Turkey Gets a Hug from Azerbaijan
                    December 4, 2015 -
                    by Giorgi Lomsadze
                    eurasianet

                    Pounded with threats and sanctions from Russia, Turkey on December 4 went to its Turkic cousin Azerbaijan to get some much-needed love and economic reassurance. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu received not only an ardent, mi-casa-es-su-casa welcome in Baku, but also promises of more business and energy supplies just as Russia is trying to starve Turkey of both of those things.

                    Sitting next to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, the Turkish prime minister melted into a lengthy toast to kinship between Azerbaijan and Turkey; one country that fate divided in two, he said. Azerbaijan is Turkey’s “soul,” “spiritual homeland,” and Turkey’s ministers are Azerbaijan’s ministers, in Davutoğlu's telling.

                    For Azerbaijan, which relies on heavily on Turkey for energy transit projects and efforts to reclaimed breakaway Nagorno Karabakh, this means, in theory, that Turkey’s problems are Azerbaijan’s problems. “Turkish-Azerbaijani unity and politics have a stabilizing effect on the region,” said Azerbaijan’s Aliyev.

                    Yet, mindful of Moscow, Azerbaijan's Soviet-era overlord and still the region's traditional mover-and-shaker, Aliyev avoided calling Russia by name. After all, of late, Baku and the Kremlin have been making nice. Instead, Aliyev noted, diplomatically broadly, that “stability in the region has been regrettably disturbed, with new risks and threats taking shape.”

                    “We should be ready and we are ready for these challenges," he added, without elaboration.

                    Davutoğlu, ever the dear relative, remained poetic. “Our great leader Heydar Aliyev [the iconic late president of Azerbaijan and father of the current president] said ‘one nation, two states…’[Famous Azerbaijan poet] Bakhtiyar Vahabzade said ‘Turkey and Azerbaijan are two sons of one mother.’”

                    “We, too, have missed the wind of Baku," the prime minister continued. "We have come to revel in this love."

                    For all the diplomatic lyricism, the two men were ultimately talking business. They agreed to expedite the TANAP project, their shared major gas export pipeline. Among pay-back measures against Turkey for the November 24 downing of Russia's SU-24 fighter jet, Moscow on December 3 suspended its Turkish Stream pipeline project, leaving billions of dollars and billions of cubic meters of gas meant for Turkey and Europe in limbo.

                    Aliyev said that Turkey will get all the gas Azerbaijan can give and promised to invest $20 billion in the Russian-boycotted Turkish economy.

                    Meanwhile, as Davutoğlu and Aliyev were showering each other with affection, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin continued threatening Turkey off-scene. “We will again, more than once remind them of what they did, and we will make them regret it more than once,” he said.

                    Comment


                    • Re: Regional geopolitics

                      Finding the Next Flashpoint in US-Russian Relations
                      December 4, 2015

                      EurasiaNet Commentary

                      Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, US-Russian relations repeatedly have been hit by surprise developments. In just the last couple of years, unexpected events have included Edward Snowden’s leaks, Crimea, Donbas, Syria, the Russian Metrojet tragedy and the Turkish shoot-down of a Russian Su-24. The list could go on. In each case, Washington was forced to make reactive as opposed to proactive policies concerning Russia or its neighbors.

                      This phenomenon is such that Russia’s ability to surprise is frequently presented as one of its prime tactical advantages over the West. The US Congress has even called for investigations into “intelligence failures” connected to Russia’s ability to surprise.

                      The focus should not be on intelligence failures. Many Russians were equally surprised by these events. The problem is that Washington repeatedly has failed to look for potential flashpoints, and, therefore, has done nothing to prepare for them. Breaking the pattern, then, should begin with identifying the next potential hot spot.

                      The list of potential problems is long, but the “frozen conflict” in Nagorno-Karabakh—an obscure region of the South Caucasus—stands out because it is far from frozen. The “hot” phase of the Karabakh war—the result of nationalist Armenia clashing with nationalist Azerbaijan during the twilight of the Soviet era—ended with a 1994 ceasefire agreement. Armenians ended up controlling the disputed Karabakh region along with a large swathe of Azerbaijan proper. The human cost was high: 20,000 killed, 1 million displaced, economies torn to shreds. After the war, Armenia fell firmly under Russia’s security blanket, while Azerbaijan looked to Turkey and the West, eager to find markets for its oil and gas. For the past two decades plus, the two combatants have failed to come to a lasting political settlement.

                      That is now part of the problem because a renewed conflict would pit Armenia, Russia’s ally, against Azerbaijan, NATO-member Turkey’s ally. Of late, both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been testing the ceasefire; if it does crumble, the conflict has the potential to develop into another proxy war between Russia and the West. The current friction between Turkey and Russia over the Su-24 downing adds a new layer of complication to an already tense situation in the Caucasus, and has raised perceptions in the Caucasus of a heightened threat level.

                      It does not have to be this way. The United States, Russia and France for much of the past 20 years led diplomatic efforts to manage the Karabakh conflict. These efforts have not brought peace, but they at least have prevented a renewal of large-scale fighting. Soldiers die each year, but clashes are largely contained to the front lines of the disputed territories.

                      Peace remains elusive because neither Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev nor his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan really want the conflict resolved. The status quo of “no real war/no real peace” is useful to them because it allows their governments to justify authoritarian policies and divert popular attention from social, economic and political problems at home. In short, these leaders find it easier to blame their respective society’s ills on external enemies than to try to implement reforms.

                      The problem now is the system of trilateral diplomacy that long kept large-scale fighting at bay in Karabakh is breaking down due to the broader erosion of East-West relations. As a result, the heat is being turned up on the long simmering conflict.

                      Aggressive language is on the rise, as local economies struggle. This is particularly problematic in Azerbaijan, where the Aliyev administration is facing a fiscal crisis brought on by the plummeting price of oil and natural gas. Baku’s increasing reliance on authoritarian governing methods also has fueled rancor in its relations with the West, diminishing Washington’s ability to influence Azerbaijan on Karabakh.

                      Over the past two years, occasional small-arms fire along the front lines has given way to artillery duels and mortar attacks, the downing of a helicopter, the use of drones and ambushes. The fighting claimed 72 lives in 2014, making it the bloodiest year since the ceasefire. Deaths this year look like they may have already surpassed that; fighting has moved beyond the traditional front lines to other areas of the border region. And villages have been targeted, leading to civilian deaths.

                      In most cases, Azerbaijan appears to be testing Armenian resolve, but Armenia is responding with resounding force. Both sides are complicit in the spike of violence this year.

                      Russia at times has played a helpful role in international negotiations; former Russian President Medvedev tried in vain to broker a resolution during his time in the Kremlin. At the same time, Russia also fuels the conflict by providing weapons to both sides. Eager to pull Azerbaijan back into its orbit, the Kremlin has authorized the sale of advanced weapons to Baku. This weapons flow has unnerved Armenia, which has sought to improve its relationship with the West, despite its alliance with Moscow.

                      Keeping the Karabakh conflict in check would seem to be in the Kremlin’s interests. The last thing Moscow needs right now is a war next to its volatile North Caucasus region, and not too far from Syria—where the Russian military is risking becoming bogged down.

                      With a lasting Karabakh peace settlement still looking illusive, the status quo probably suits the West too. Distracted by Syria, the Ukrainian conflict and growing terror threats at home, the West does not have the bandwidth to address yet another conflict.

                      Another consideration is that instability in Armenia or Azerbaijan could provide a post-sanctions Iran with an opening to increase its influence in the Caucasus at Russian, Turkish and US expense. This would occur at the same time when Tehran is trying to expand its influence in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

                      Russia and the United States have a track record of at least trying to de-escalate the Karabakh conflict. Another war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is in nobody’s interest, and it is time to reinvigorate diplomacy to make sure there is not one.

                      Editor's note: Paul Stronski is a senior associate in the Carnegie Endowment’s Russia and Eurasia Program, where his research focuses on the relationship between Russia and neighboring countries in Central Asia and the South Caucasus. He was Director for Russia and Central Asia on the US National Security Council Staff from 2012 to 2014; he also has served as a research analyst in the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, focusing on Russia and the South Caucasus.

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