Russia Accuses Turkey Of Preparing For Military Intervention In Syria

February 4, 2016
Syrian Civil Defence volunteers inspect remains of a Russian cluster bomb dropped on Hraytan, north of Aleppo, last night. Screenshot from Youtube

Live Updates: Russia has accused Turkey of preparing to send military forces into Syria, as the Syrian regime cuts Aleppo off from border supply routes.

The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.

Thousands Of Refugees Fleeing Aleppo Pocket Stuck At Turkish Border

Thousands of Syrians are reported to be attempting to flee the Aleppo region to Turkey as pro-regime forces, supported by punitive Russian airstrikes, threaten to encircle and besiege the city.

Syria’s indepedent Shahba Press Agency filmed huge crowds of people at a checkpoint on the border with Turkey.

The Turkish authorities do not appear to be allowing the refugees to cross the frontier: 

Markito, a Twitter microblogger providing close analysis of the conflict in Syria, identifies the crossing as the Bab al-Salameh checkpoint, north of the rebel-held town of Azaz.

For context, see this map from The Guardian:

Feb 04, 2016 19:14 (GMT)

These people are now trapped between Kurdish YPG and regime-allied forces with no way to move south towards Aleppo city.

— Pierre Vaux

Reports That Huge Numbers Of Syrians Are Fleeing Aleppo As Russian-Backed Offensive Intensifies

Social media is filled with videos and pictures, many of which we believe are genuine, showing large crowds of Syrians fleeing Aleppo province and traveling toward Turkey. As we have been reporting, there are also growing concerns that since the Turkish border appears to be closed, these protesters will be stranded in the open, without supplies, as nearby battles rage.

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, speaking today at a fundraising conference, also raised alarm at the sheer scale of refugees fleeing this week’s violence. The Guardian reports:

“Sixty to seventy-thousand people in the camps in north Aleppo are moving towards Turkey. My mind is not now in London but on our border – how to relocate these new people coming from Syria?” he said on Thursday. “Three hundred thousand people living in Aleppo are ready to move towards Turkey.”


The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told the conference: “The situation is not sustainable. We cannot go on like this. There is no military solution; only political dialogue will rescue the Syrian people from their intolerable suffering.

“It is deeply disturbing that the initial steps of the talks have been undermined by the continuous lack of sufficient humanitarian access, and by a sudden increase of aerial bombing and military activities within Syria. The focus on the people of Syria is also being lost amid petty procedural matters.

“All sides in this conflict are committing human rights abuses of a shocking scale and depravity.”

Russian bombs trigger mass Aleppo exodus, Syria conference told

Increasingly intensive Russian airstrikes are pushing tens of thousands of Syrians from Aleppo towards the Turkish border, Ahmet Davutoğlu has told a Syria fundraising conference. Related: Syrian donor conference: Cameron pledges to double aid – live updates The Turkish prime minister said he been sent news of the mass exodus as he arrived in London for the conference, which aims to raise billions of dollars in aid for refugees in Syria and bordering countries.

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Feb 05, 2016 01:23 (GMT)

The United States has pledged nearly a billion dollars in new aid to help the refugees — bringing their total amount of spending on humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees to more than five billion dollars over the last five years. Turkey says it has already spent ten billion dollars in this crisis, and could spend another twenty billion to care for Syrian refugees. All of these numbers have many wondering, of course, if the cost is worth it since caring for refugees does not end the crisis:

The Associated Press reports that Saudi Arabia has even pledged to send ground troops to fight ISIS — if asked by the US-led coalition:

Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri told The Associated Press on Thursday that Saudi Arabia has taken part in coalition airstrikes against IS since the U.S.-led campaign began in September 2014, but could now provide ground troops.

The United States is scheduled to convene a meeting of defense ministers from countries fighting IS in Brussels this month.

“We are determined to fight and defeat Daesh,” Asiri said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. He didn’t say how many troops the kingdom would send.

But both Jordan and Lebanon are warning that their governments could collapse under the weight of the strain of dealing with the refugee crisis. The Globe and Mail reports:

The leaders of Jordan and Lebanon – which together host almost two million Syrian refugees – piled on more grim news by telling an international donors’ conference in London that their countries were near the breaking point if the world did not do more to help.


Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam struck a similar note [as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon], saying his country was experiencing shortages of everything from water to school spaces as a result of the influx of more than one million registered refugees. “Soon Lebanon will no longer be able to contain an eruption,” which will drive more refugees abroad, Mr. Salam warned. “Time is running out.”

Those dire warnings were coupled with an appeal from Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who called on leaders to create a $1.4-billion fund focused on education refugee children. “How can we think of a better future for Syria when 700,000 children are out of school among the refugees?” she told a press conference.

'We cannot go on like this': UN pleads for end to Syrian conflict

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made an emotional appeal for the world to do more to stop the war in Syria, warning, "We cannot go on like this," a day after talks to end the conflict were suspended.

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Feb 05, 2016 01:32 (GMT)

But there are darker, and unconfirmed, reports coming tonight that a Syrian girl may have been shot near a Turkish checkpoint, perhaps by Turkish soldiers (warning – graphic content). Whether true or not, scenes like this are everywhere in northern Syria today, and the desperation of the Syrian people is growing exponentially:
And the bombing continues (WARNING – GRAPHIC):
James Miller
On The Back Of Russian Airstrikes, Assad Regime Threatens To Encircle Aleppo

The anti-Assad rebels in northern Syria have arguably had their worst week in years and are in danger of losing control of what was once Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, and the surrounding countryside. Yesterday, as we reported, the Assad regime broke through rebel lines and were threatening to close the rebel supplies route to Aleppo.

Today there are reports that the rebels have lost another village today, Kafer Naya (map), northwest of Aleppo
city. The city of Aleppo is now nearly encircled by Assad’s forces, and
some have suggested that that encirclement is already complete.

The Guardian reports that the area, which has already rejected two major regime offensives in the last three months, has been relentlessly bombed by Russian airstrikes:

“They have not stopped bombing,” said one rebel leader, who was in the process of leaving his position in the town of Hreitan. “All the hospitals have been destroyed. We have around seven attacks an hour every day for a week. There were more than 120 on Tuesday alone.”

Opposition groups said thousands of residents of the Aleppo countryside were headed on foot for the Turkish border, a journey of up to 50 miles. The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, estimated that as many as 70,000 newly displaced people were trying to reach the main border crossing at Killis.

Roads to the south of the adjoining Syrian town of Azaz were attacked by Russian jets earlier this month. “They have done all they can to destroy supply lines,” said one resident. “The world has fast forgotten that we were the ones who kicked out Isis two years ago. We have kept them out of the area since then.”

The stepped-up Russian attacks come despite Moscow’s stated commitment to a political process to end the war in Syria, which has been responsible for the greatest humanitarian crisis of modern times and laid large parts of the country to waste.

Syrian rebels losing grip on Aleppo

Opposition forces in northern Syria say they are losing their grip on Aleppo as Russian bombardment and advances by pro-Assad militias come close to cutting their supply lines and besieging the city. After a week of the most intensive bombardment of the five-year war, forces loyal to the Syrian leader are in control of most of the countryside immediately to the north.

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Feb 04, 2016 23:34 (GMT)

The Guardian also provides this handy map of the new regime offensive. As we can see, Assad’s forces have nearly encircled Aleppo, but in the northwest they have extended their territory as far north as an area that is controlled by the Kurdish YPG rebel grounds. The YPG, which has been in a truce with the rebels for some time, has broken that truce. As such, the Kurdish group which is opposed to Turkey is helping the Assad regime and its allies close the noose around the rebel positions — rebels which have been backed by the Turkish government, and in many cases the West.
2016-02-04 18:38:52

it might be a mistake to call the military force which is conducting this attack “Assad’s forces.” The Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders are effectively running this war,
coordinating the Syrian military, Hezbollah fighters, and Iraqi Shia
militias. The Russian air force is conducting heavy bombardment of the
rebel frontline positions.

Furthermore, as we reported earlier this week, Russian T-90 battle tanks, some
carrying Hezbollah flags, have been spotted on the front lines. There
are reports that Russian combat troops have been taking part in battles
on multiple fronts, and the Russian Ministry of Defence has said that
at least one Russian military officer has been killed this week
, but
that number may be higher. The Russians say he was killed in an ISIS
mortar attack, but that’s unlikely based on the geography of Russia’s
involvement. In all likelihood, he died as the result of Russian
offensive actions in territory where ISIS is not present.

short, just last summer Assad was hemorrhaging territory to
Western-backed rebels who were armed with American anti-tank weapons.
Russian airstrikes started at the end of September, and it has taken
months of bombing to have any impact on the battlefield, a sign of how
weak the Syrian regime really is. But the moderate rebels simply cannot
defend themselves against a coordinated attack by the Syrian regime,
state-of-the-art battle tanks and air strikes, and ground troops from at
least four foreign countries.

may be able to defeat the moderate rebels with such a coalition, but he
can never hope to restore control over his country. He has no support
in large parts of his country and he is now completely dependent on
foreign forces to take and hold ground.

Russia and Assad continue to largely ignore ISIS in eastern Syria.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told the press today that less than
10% of Russian airstrikes are targeting territory held by the Islamic
State. Based on the fact that Russian airstrikes seem to kill more
civilians than military targets, we can infer that Russian airstrikes
have had a negligible impact on ISIS.

Business Insider reports:

“The Russians at this point have made it very clear that their offensive operations … are in support of Bashar al-Assad and his regime,” Warren said. “So when the regime is fighting, whoever the regime is fighting, that’s who gets struck.”

Russia only seems to hit ISIS when ISIS comes into contact with Syrian forces.

“Occasionally, the Syrian regime forces will find themselves in contact with ISIL,” Warren said. “And in those cases, we see the Russians striking ISIL. But it’s very limited. A fraction.”

While ISIS and Assad are on opposite sides of the fight for control in Syria, they’ve largely avoided each other on the battlefield so far.

Top US military official: Russia has made it 'very clear' that it's not really in Syria to fight ISIS – Business Insider

Months into Russia's campaign of air strikes in Syria, it's become clear that ISIS isn't the Russian military's true target. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said at a briefing on Wednesday that at most, only 10% of Russian strikes are hitting the terrorist group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and Daesh) in Syria.

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Feb 04, 2016 23:46 (GMT)

James Miller
Russia Accuses Turkey Of Preparing For Military Intervention In Syria

The Russian Ministry of Defence has accused Turkey of preparing for a military intervention in Syria.

Interfax reports that Igor Konashenkov, official spokesman for the Ministry, said today:

“We have serious grounds to suspect intense preparations by Turkey for a military incursion into the territory of a sovereign state – the Syrian Arab Republic. We are detecting more and more signs of hidden preparations by the Turkish armed forces for active operations on Syrian territory.”

Konashenkov claimed that the Ministry of Defence has video evidence of Turkish self-propelled artillery units shelling settlements in the north of Syria’s Latakia province.

Meanwhile Turkey has confirmed that a Russian reconnaissance aircraft was refused permission to overfly Turkish airspace near the Syrian border.

The flight would usually be allowed under the Open Skies treaty.

AFP reports:

“An agreement could not be reached on the itinerary for the reconnaissance flight requested by the Russian Federation for 2-5 February 2016,” the ministry said.

Moscow had said Wednesday that the Russian plane’s itinerary had been transmitted to the Turkish army in advance but authorisation was refused with Ankara.

Sergei Ryzhkov, chief of the department for monitoring the implementation of treaties at the Ministry of Defence, said today, TASS reports:

“The route supposed, among other things, observation of areas adjacent to the Syrian border and airfields where NATO aircraft are concentrated. But after the arrival of the Russian mission in Turkey and the announcement of the planned route of the observation flight, the Turkish military denied the opportunity to conduct it citing an instruction from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry,” Ryzhkov said.

“In this way, as a result of violations of the requirements of the Treaty and unconstructive actions on the part of Turkey, a dangerous precedent was created of an uncontrolled military activity of an Open Skies Treaty member state,” he said.

“We are not going to leave without proper attention and relevant reaction violations of the Open Skies Treaty on the part of the Turkish Republic,” Ryzhkov said.

Further adding to tensions between the two states are new claims attributed on Monday to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) that Turkey’s ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves terrorist group was responsible for the downing of MetroJet flight 9268 after leaving Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh airport on October 31.

'Turkish ultra-nationalists' behind Russian airliner bombing, reports say

Russian investigators suspect an extreme Turkish nationalist group may have been involved in the bombing of a Russian airliner in Sinai in October, it has been claimed. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) suspects a radical Turkish group called the Grey Wolves had a hand in the attack that killed 224 people, according to a Russian newspaper.

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Feb 04, 2016 15:37 (GMT)

In the original Kommersant report cited by The Telegraph, an unnamed source “in the intelligence services” is quoted as saying that the Grey Wolves are linked with ISIS. 

This is a strange claim to make given that ISIS and the anti-Islamist, far-right Grey Wolves have starkly opposed aims. Neither is there any history of collaboration between the two groups. While the Grey Wolves have been implicated in numerous attacks around the world, with potential links to last year’s Bangkok bombing, they have not carried out bomb attacks on airliners before.

Senator Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Federation Council committee on defence and security, told RIA Novosti that Moscow could demand financial compensation for the families of the MetroJet victims from Ankara if the claims were ver

Relations between Turkey and Russia have deteriorated badly since Turkish F-16s downed a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber after the Russian jet, Ankara and NATO say, crossed into Turkish airspace.

With Syrian regime forces, supported by Russia and Iran, having now cut off the rebel-held city centre of Aleppo from border crossings with Turkey to the north, tensions will only worsen.

— Pierre Vaux