Russia Says Turkey May Be Planning Syria `Invasion'

  • Turkey tries to hide `illegal' military actions, Russia says
  • Russia calls ban on surveillance flight `dangerous precedent'

Russia ramped up its rhetoric in its confrontation with Turkey by accusing it of carrying out “intensive preparations” for a military invasion of Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry sees “a growing number of signs of hidden preparation of the Turkish Armed Forces for active actions on the territory of Syria,” General-Major Igor Konashenkov said in a e-mailed statement Thursday. There are “reasonable grounds” to suspect Turkey of preparing for action.

In a “dangerous precedent,” Turkey on Wednesday banned Russian military planes from carrying out inspections of its territory allowed under the Open Skies accord, the Defense Ministry said. Russia regards this decision as an attempt by Turkey to hide “illegal military activity near the Syrian border,” it said.

Tensions between the governments in Moscow and Ankara have mounted since Turkish jets shot down a Russian bomber near the Syrian border in November. Turkey accused Russia of violating its border again over the weekend. Russia has imposed sanctions against Turkey and strengthened air defenses for its warplanes conducting airstrikes in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Russian Defense Ministry has “intensified all kinds of intelligence in the Middle East,” Konashenkov said. “If someone in Ankara thinks that the prohibition of the Russian observer flight allows to hide something, it is unprofessional,” he said.

‘Hot Crisis’

Russia sought to fly along Turkey’s border with Syria as far as Hatay and “there was no compelling reason to allow that,” Omer Celik, spokesman for Turkey’s governing AKP party, told reporters in Ankara. There’s a “fresh, hot crisis” between Russia and Turkey now and it’s for “the international community to judge” why Russia made such a “speculative request,” he said.

“It’s not acceptable for us to allow an observation flight on our Syria border, all the way to Hatay, due to security problems,” Celik said. “That’s why this Russian observational flight wasn’t approved.”

Turkey, which has the second largest military in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization behind the U.S., began heavy deployments on the Syrian border in 2012, after the downing of a Turkish jet by Syrian forces in June that year. Cross-border skirmishes have been a regular occurrence since then, as Turkey came under international pressure to crack down on border crossings by Islamic militants, while security forces have also been fighting a renewed Kurdish insurgency in the nation’s east.

‘Red Line’

“Turkey has no clear objective in Syria that can be achieved through the use of force and clearly it has no preparedness for an invasion. Its buildup is for defensive purposes only,” Nihat Ali Ozcan, a security expert at the Ankara-based think tank Tepav, said by phone on Thursday. “The Russian allegations are simply not realistic.”

Turkey and Russia “understand that there’s a red line that can’t be crossed” because a direct confrontation would “derail the peace process” on Syria, Alexei Malashenko, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said by phone.

Russia backs Assad against Islamic State and other militants fighting his regime. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected Russian allegations that Turkey’s buying oil illegally from Islamic State across the Syrian border. Turkey has urged Russia to stop bombing its “Syrian Turkmen brothers” fighting against Assad in northern Syria.

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