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By Ollie Richardson

After the recent warming of relations between Erdogan and Putin and the alleged relocation of NATO nuclear weapons to Romania, both new and old media has been rife with reports about Russia’s possible use of Turkey’s Incirlik airbase for the bombing of terrorists in Syria. Newspapers such as the British Times claim that “Russia is pressing Turkey for access to a key airbase used by the US as it tries to extend its influence in the Middle East.” 

On 21st August 2016, Turkish PM Binali Yildirim was quoted as saying, “Turkey opened Incirlik airbase to fight Daesh [Islamic State] terrorists. It is being used by the US and Qatar. Other nations might also wish to use the airbase, which the Germans are also now using,”. “If necessary, the Incirlik base can be used.”

However, the Prime Minister refuted the reports that Russia was bullying them for access:

“I don’t think they have a need for Incirlik. Because they already have two bases in Syria.”

In order to establish what is likely to happen, Stalker Zone asked Al Rai Chief International Correspondent, veteran War correspondent, and Analyst Elijah J. Magnier to comment on the speculation on whether Russia could use Incirlik airbase to aid its aerial campaign in Syria:

“Turkey is showing high control over rebels in Syria, the same ones that are bombed daily by Russia. Therefore, the interests of Turkey and Russia doesn’t find common ground in all aspects of the war in Syria. In addition, Turkey is still a NATO member, and the Incirlik base was built by the US in the 50’s and has about 5000 U.S. Air Force serving in it since 2002. The relationship between Turkey and US could shake but not to the point of hosting two superpowers in one single base. This is absurd. It is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s style to wave his menace in the face of the US to extract Fethullah Gülen, nothing more.”

It is necessary to remember that, despite Erdogan being busy as of late with internal matters, and information about Russia’s role in the suppression the attempted coup Turkey being disseminated widely, Turkey is directly responsible for the death of 1 Russian Pilot (Su-24 shootdown) and indirectly responsible for the death of 5 Russian crew-members (Mi-8 shootdown) via its unwavering supply of MANPADS for groups like Ahrar al-Sham. While no war has ever been fought without losses within the parties involved, Russia would prefer to keep the number of casualties from its side to a minimum to avoid giving the liberal 5th column inside the Duma ammunition to portray Putin as a weak and indecisive leader, especially when in the background the Ukrainian Army is violating the Minsk Agreements every single day.

In other words, due to the differing interests in the region, Russia and Turkey ultimately both diverge and unite at various points in the wider MENA conflict. Turkey would prefer Assad “to go”, and Russia would prefer him to stay to keep the Syrian State in a stable condition. Turkey absolutely does not want a Kurdish State on its border, and Russia is acting as a mediator between the Kurds and the SDF and Syrian Arab Army. After the sudden increase in intensity of Russian’s aerial campaign in Syria due to complaints from allies on the ground regarding the lack of air support, the Kurds (steered by the US?) suddenly started to squabble with the Syrian Army over the settlement of Hasakah in Northeast Syria. This resulted in the US scrambling their jets in order to intimidate Assad – a move that did not work as the Syrian Army dispatched SAM systems to the area. 

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The balance is very fluid and delicate, and also revolves around the conditions set by Russia in relation to the Turkish Stream pipeline. If Turkey really wants the head of the Gulen network extradited for trial, it will continue to “pivot east” and intensify efforts to establish healthy relations with Iran and China. Sending proxies and arms to further inflame Syria and Iraq is, however, certainly not indicatory of the neo-Ottoman leopard changing its spots, and actually shows a reluctance to part ways with the NATO alliance. It is also worth remembering that Russia still hasn’t played its ace – Admiral Kuznetsov…

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