The NATO-Russia face off in Syria

Pepe Escobar
Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and "Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015.
© Russian Su-30 aircraft at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. © Dmitriy Vinogradov
So a Su-30 enters a few hundred meters into Turkish airspace for only two minutes over Hatay province, and returns to Syrian airspace after being warned by a couple of Turkish F-16s.

Then all hell breaks loose as if this was the ultimate pretext for a NATO-Russia war.

NATO, predictably, went out all rhetorical guns blazing. Russia is causing “extreme danger” and should immediately stop bombing those cute “moderate rebels” the coalition of the dodgy opportunists refuses to bomb.

READ MORE: Accidental Turkish airspace incursion 'used to involve NATO in info war against Russia over Syria'

But wait; NATO is actually too busy to go to war. The priority, until at least November, is the epic Trident Juncture 2015; 36,000 troops from 30 states, more than 60 warships, around 200 aircraft, all are seriously practicing how to defend from the proverbial “The Russians are Coming!”

Still, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – he of the former “zero problems with our neighbors” doctrine - actually “warned” Moscow that next time Ankara would respond “militarily”.

Until, of course, he backed down; “What we have received from Russia …is that this was a mistake and that they respect Turkey's borders and this will not happen again.”

The incident could have been easily defused – via military to military communication - without the posturing.

But Ankara – NATO’s eastern flank – is under immense pressure from ‘Exceptionalistan’. It’s no accident Pentagon supremo and notorious neocon Ash Carter “conferred” with Ankara about the incident. Carter of course is the most stellar practitioner of the official Beltway diktat; “By taking military action in Syria against moderate groups’ targets, Russia has escalated the civil war.”

Syria's northern Raqqa province. © Reuters

‘Sultan’ Erdogan, right on cue, and straight from Strasbourg (no, he was not campaigning for the European Parliament) doubled down: “Assad has committed state terrorism, and unfortunately you find Russia and Iran defending (him).”

And yet ‘Sultan’ Erdogan won’t go down in history as the catalyst for the much-awaited NATO-Russia Hot War 2.0. At least not yet.

READ MORE: Turkey says ‘no tension’ after Russian airspace violation mistake, NATO cries foul

Only bomb if we say so

Enter Dr. Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski, growling in a FT Op-Ed that Washington should “retaliate” if Moscow does not stop attacking US assets in Syria. “US assets” means CIA-trained “moderate rebels”. And after all, “American credibility” is at stake.

Dr. Zbig – Obama’s prime foreign policy mentor – insists bombing CIA-trained “rebels” accounts for “Russian military incompetence”. And the American counter-attack should be to “disarm” the “Russian naval and air presence.” Now that’s how you go for a NATO-Russia Hot War 2.0.  

Dr. Zbig admitted though that “regional chaos could easily spread northeastward,” and then “both Russia and then China could be adversely affected.” Who cares? What matters is that “American interests and America’s friends…would also suffer.”

This is what passes for prime geopolitical analysis in the ‘Empire of Chaos’.  

‘Sultan’ Erdogan, for his part, remains restless. Moscow has already evaporated his so cherished three-year-old dream of a no-fly zone over northern Syria. There is an actual no-fly zone all over Syria now in effect. But it’s managed by Russia.

And that explains why there’s already full spectrum hysteria for more US Congress sanctions on Russia. How can a no-fly zone be imposed over Syria when Russia got there first?

And it was all going so swimmingly for the ‘Sultan’. Ankara – at the insistence of Washington – had finally thrown open its air bases to fight ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, but as long as this was part of a regime change operation in Damascus. And for that, Ankara would get its no-fly zone.  

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Enter ‘The Sultan’s’ recurrent nightmare; the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its sister organization, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

‘The Sultan’ simply cannot accept the PYD advancing to the western bank of the Euphrates to help in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. ‘The Sultan’ wants to “contain” the PYD in Kobani.

The problem is the PYD – supported by the PKK – is the only reliable ‘Empire of Chaos’ ally in Syria. Yet ‘the Sultan’ could not help himself; he got into a war – again – against the PKK. Washington was not exactly amused.

And then there’s the key corridor from the Bab al-Salam border crossing down to Aleppo - controlled by Ankara-supported goon squads. That’s Ankara’s bridge to Aleppo; without it, not the slightest chance of regime change, ever. The fake “Caliphate” was threatening to take over the corridor. So action was imperative.

Russia’s spectacular entry into the war theatre threw all these elaborate plans into disarray. Imagine a complete liberation of northeast Syria as soon as the PYD – with help from PKK fighters - is weaponized enough to smash the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goons. And imagine the Russian Air Force providing air cover for such an operation, with extra coordination by the Russia-Syria-Iraq-Iran central in Baghdad.

‘The Sultan’, in desperation, would have to maneuver his F-16s against such an offensive. And then we might really have a NATO-Russia five seconds to midnight scenario – with terrifying consequences. ‘The Sultan’ would blink first. And NATO would collapse into the ignominy it never left – back to its elaborate “Russia is invading” drills.

Say hello to my geopolitical jihadi tool

Next steps for the Russian campaign would be to pay close attention to the road linking ISIS/ISIL/Daesh’s capital, Al-Raqqah, around which jihadis are fighting for the control of oil and gas in Sha’ir and Jazal. And then there are pockets east of both Homs and Hama, and in al-Qaryatayn. Moscow – slowly, surely, methodically - is getting there.

What the Russian air campaign has already graphically exposed is the whole rotten core myth of the new Jihad International.

ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Jabhat al-Nusra and assorted Salafi-jihadi goon squads have been kept up and running by a massive financial/logistical/weaponizing “effort” – which includes all sorts of key nodes, from arms factories in Bulgaria and Croatia to transportation routes via Turkey and Jordan.  

As for those Syrian “moderate rebels” – and most of them are not even Syrian, they’re mercenaries – every pebble in the ravaged Sykes-Picot desert sands knows they were trained by the CIA in Jordan. The desert pebbles are also aware that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goons have been infiltrated into Syria from Turkey – once again, across Hatay province; and vast swathes of ‘the Sultan’s’ Army and police were into the game.

As for who pays the bills for the lavish weaponizing, talk to the proverbial “pious wealthy donors” – incited by their clerics - in the GCC, the petrodollar arm of NATO. None of these goon squads could possibly thrive for so long without full, multidisciplinary “support” from the usual suspects.

So the hysterical/apoplectic/paroxystic rage enveloping the ‘Empire of Chaos’ betrays the utter failure, once again, of the same old “policy” (remember Afghanistan) of using jihadis as geopolitical tools. Fake “Caliphate” or “rebels”, they are all NATO-GCC’s bitches.

To add insult to injury, a frustrated ‘Sultan’ has also been forced to annex himself to a slightly changing Washington position – which now rules that “Assad must go,” yes, but it may take some time, as part of a yet to be defined “transition”.

‘The Sultan’ will remain a pile of nerves. He does not give a damn about ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Washington now does – sort of. He wants to smash the PYD and the PKK. For Washington, the PYD is a helpful ally. As for Moscow, ‘the Sultan’ better watch his neo-Ottoman step.

‘The Sultan’ simply cannot afford to antagonize ‘The Bear’. Gazprom will expand the Blue Stream pipeline into Turkey. It would be by 3 billion cubic meters; instead it will be by 1 billion cubic meters. According to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, it’s due to technical capabilities.

Yet Ankara better get its act together, because even that extension may evaporate if there’s no agreement on the commercial terms of TurkStream, the former Turkish Stream. Ankara is under tremendous pressure from the Obama administration. And ‘the Sultan’ knows very well that without Russia all his elaborate plans to position Turkey as the key energy transit hub from East to West will vanish in Anatolian scrub. In the end, he may even get regime-changed himself.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.