Massenbach-Letter. NEWS 23.02.18

Massenbach-Letter. News

  • Deutsche Bank Research – Ausblick Deutschland: Partyzeit
  • Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ): Deutschlands Militär ist ein Sanierungsfall
  • Asia Times: Afrin marks the point of collapse for American influence in Syria
  • In Syria, Alliances Shift Again
  • Turkey Tests the Waters Off the Coast of Cyprus
  • Türkisch-deutsche Beziehungen: Einäugig
  • Wall Street Journal: The Russian Indictments
  • From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)
  • Major Challenges for the Military and Security Services in Syria
  • US Nuclear Policy Upgraded – The Russian Factor
  • Georgia, the European Union and Associated Membershipand NATO
  • Statement by the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group: Support for Dialogue Among Governments to Address Cyber Threats to Nuclear Facilities, Strategic Warning and Nuclear Command and Control
  • The Caucasian Knot: NEWS

– Wagner’s Private Military Company" (Wagner’s PMC)

– Questions of trust in authorities‘ guarantees

– Political analysts doubt close organizational and financial links with the IS in Dagestan

Massenbach* Deutsche Bank Research – Ausblick Deutschland: Partyzeit

Die Konjunktur hat im Winterhalbjahr kaum an Schwung verloren. Der enge Arbeitsmarkt und prall gefüllte Auftragsbücher der Unternehmen bescheren den Gewerkschaften eine hervorragende Verhandlungsposition, wenngleich die diesjährigen Abschlüsse wohl letztlich nicht ganz so hoch ausfallen dürften, wie sich mancher Arbeitnehmer und die EZB erhoffen.

Gleichzeitig werden bei den Verhandlungen über eine Neuauflage der Groko die fiskalischen Überschüsse komplett ausgegeben. Gerade so, als gäbe es keine demografischen Herausforderungen und gerade so, als seien „Nullzinsen“ und eine boomende Wirtschaftsentwicklung ein Normalzustand. Wie intonieren die Narren, wenn das Ende der Karnevalszeit naht? „Am Aschermittwoch ist alles vorbei.“


From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)

  • Major Challenges for the Military and Security Services in Syria

The role of the military and security services has been crucial to the stability of regimes in the Middle East for the last seven decades. Militarization of the ruling elites in the region was inherent in these societies as the wave of anti-colonial revolutions initiated by army officers in the late 1940s and 1950s brought them to power. Back then, they were the only force capable of taking power and ultimately protecting their countries’ independence and integrity….

One of the most important factors that determines whether security and military structures are key to a regime’s rigidity is their involvement in the political and economic life of their country…

…In Syria, where the security apparatus and armed forces play a crucial role in the existing system and the military phase of the civil war is coming to the end, the question of structural reforms and changes will be among the key ones. Considering that the Syrian intelligence services were deeply involved in the country’s system of management, oppression, and interrogation, and later in the civil war, their status and the question of systemic, functional change are going to be on the agenda of the parties in the conflict….

Because of this, reformation of the Syrian security and military apparatus is even more complicated than it seems. On one hand, security is absolutely necessary and important in the context of any transition process. It is a precondition for the launch of political processes (and security services and the military, among other actors, must provide it). On the other hand, in the Syrian reality, a large part of the opposition seeks to dismantle all regime-related forces, which will lead to insecurity. As a result, a very cautious approach should be implemented, one which will simultaneously initiate restructuring of the security apparatus under public and/or international scrutiny and allow existing structures to provide security. Otherwise, there is a high risk of another escalation.

In addition to that, the task of rebuilding trust between Syrian intelligence structures and society is enormous. This is why a political process should be launched to initiate reform of the intelligence services in Syria. This process should help bring positive results on less sensitive issues that are required to precede with more complicated ones. Such a process is only possible when both sides of the conflict are ready to compromise. For now, prospects of this look dim.

It seems now that the only possible scenario involves major actors in the crisis exerting their influence on the opposition and government to start talks on political transition and ultimately initiate it. Without external observation and pressure, such a process seems almost impossible.-

  • US Nuclear Policy Upgraded – The Russian Factor

The modernization of nuclear weapons is inevitable and even advisable for all nuclear powers. Russia, for one, continues to deploy and develop advanced nuclear systems. Universal nuclear disarmament remains a thing of the distant future; shiny new missiles appear to be safer to handle than rusty old ones, and they are better at deterring potential adversaries……

  • Georgia, the European Union and Associated Membershipand NATO

In recent years, Georgia has been just about the only country in the region that continues to display lofty ambitions in its relations with the European Union while at the same time making a number of practical changes in public administration and the economy in keeping with Georgia’s commitment to “political association and economic integration” with the European Union. In this context, one wonders if Georgia is in a position to become the new “success story” of the Eastern Partnership against the background of the unfulfilled hopes for the Europeanization of Moldova.

…However, all the talk about the success of Georgia’s modernization has been accompanied in the global media with reports to the effect that, in reality, Georgia is not run by the parliament or the president, but rather by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili. And his Georgian Dream party, while enjoying a strong majority in parliament, seeks to expand its control of the country’s political and media space even further. Therefore, domestic political conditions cast a shadow over the overall image of the country, which has declared itself a part of Europe…..

  • Statement by the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group: Support for Dialogue Among Governments to Address Cyber Threats to Nuclear Facilities, Strategic Warning and Nuclear Command and Control

For the past three years, Des Browne, Wolfgang Ischinger, Igor Ivanov, Sam Nunn, and their respective organizations—the European Leadership Network (ELN), the Munich Security Conference (MSC), the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)—have been working with former and current officials and experts from a group of Euro-Atlantic states and the European Union to test ideas and develop proposals for improving security in areas of existential common interest. The Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group (EASLG) operates as an independent and informal initiative, with participants who reflect the diversity of the Euro-Atlantic region from the United States, Canada, Russia, and fifteen European countries…..

  • The Caucasian Knot: NEWS

– Wagner’s Private Military Company" (Wagner’s PMC)

– Questions of trust in authorities‘ guarantees

– Political analysts doubt close organizational and financial links with the IS in Dagestan


Wall Street Journal: The Russian Indictments

Where were James Clapper and John Brennan when the Kremlin was meddling?

By The Editorial Board – Feb. 16, 2018 6:59 p.m. ET

The Justice Department on Friday indicted three Russian companies and 13 individuals for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the man who should be most upset is Donald J. Trump. The 37-page indictment contains no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, but it does show a systematic effort to discredit the result of the 2016 election. On the evidence so far, President Trump has been the biggest victim of that effort, and he ought to be furious at Vladimir Putin.

The indictment documents a broad social-media and propaganda campaign operating out of Russia and involving hundreds of people starting in 2014 that “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system.” It certainly succeeded on that score, as Democrats and the media have claimed that Mr. Trump’s election is illegitimate because he conspired with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton. The charge has roiled American politics and made governing more difficult.

The good news for Mr. Trump is that the indictment reveals no evidence of collusion. The Russians “posted derogatory information about a number of candidates,” the indictment says, and by 2016 “included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump” and “disparaging Hillary Clinton.” But it adds that the Russians “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign,” and it offers no claims of a conspiracy.

Readers of the indictment will be amused at the comic opera details. In or around June 2016, for example, Russians posing online as Americans “communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization.” This “real U.S. person” vouchsafed the deep political secret that the Russians “should focus their activities on ‘purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.’” Sure enough, the Russians thereafter referred to targeting “purple states.” Someone actually paid Russians to collect this insight.

The indictment also contains no evidence that Russia’s meddling changed the electoral results. A U.S. presidential campaign is a maelstrom of information, charges and counter-charges, media reports and social-media chatter. The Russian Twitter bursts became part of this din and sought to reinforce existing biases more than they sought to change minds. Their Twitter hashtags included “#Hillary4Prison,” for example, which you could find at the souvenir desk at the GOP convention.

Yet none of this should let Twitter, Facebook or Google off the hook for being facilitators of this disinformation. The social-media sites and search engines clearly did far too little to police their content for malicious trolls and in the process misled millions of Americans. They need to do more to take responsibility for the content they midwife.

The indictment also makes us wonder what the Obama Administration was doing amid all of this. Where were top Obama spooks James Clapper and John Brennan ? Their outrage became public only after their candidate lost the election. If they didn’t know what was going on, why not? And if they did, why didn’t they let Americans in on the secret? President Obama sanctioned Russia for its meddling only after the election.

The indictment’s details underscore Russia’s malicious anti-American purposes. An authoritarian regime spent tens of millions of dollars to erode public trust in American democracy. As Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) put it Friday, “Putin’s shadow war is aimed at undermining Americans’ trust in our institutions. We know Russia is coming back in 2018 and 2020—we have to take the threat seriously.”

All of which makes the White House reaction on Friday strangely muted. Its statement understandably focused on the lack of collusion evidence and made one reference to “the agendas of bad actors, like Russia.” But given how much Russia’s meddling has damaged his first year in office, Mr. Trump should publicly declare his outrage at Russia on behalf of the American people. The Kremlin has weakened his Presidency. He should make Russia pay a price that Mr. Obama never did.


Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ): Deutschlands Militär ist ein Sanierungsfall

Die Bundeswehr ist in schlechtem Zustand. Alle U-Boote und viele Panzer sind lahmgelegt.

Deutschlands Verteidigungsfähigkeit ist infrage gestellt.

Deutsche U-Boote sind berüchtigt. Sie gelten als die leisesten der Welt und können sich unbemerkt feindlichen Schiffen nähern. Seit Oktober sind sie jedoch nicht mehr nur leise, sondern verstummt. Ein Unfall vor Norwegen beschädigte das letzte einsatzfähige Exemplar. Nun liegen alle sechs defekt in der Werft. Der Ausfall steht beispielhaft für die Situation der Bundeswehr. Die Truppe ist ein Sanierungsfall. Sie hat zu wenige einsatzbereite Schiffe, Transportflugzeuge und Helikopter. Mindestens die Hälfte der Kampfpanzer ist stillgelegt, und auch im Kleinen mangelt es: Kürzlich wurden die Essensrationen für Einsätze knapp. Der Wehrbeauftragte des Bundestages, der Sozialdemokrat Hans-Peter Bartels, hält die Truppe «als Ganzes für nicht einsetzbar». Die Materiallage sei dramatisch schlecht, sagte Bartels am Dienstag bei der Vorstellung seines Jahresberichts. Das von der CDU-Politikerin Ursula von der Leyen geführte Verteidigungsministerium räumt Schwierigkeiten ein und bezeichnet die Einsatzbereitschaft als generell nicht zufriedenstellend.

Auf 13 Auslandsmissionen

Die deutsche Marine sollte nach Ansicht von Bartels an keinen weiteren Auslandseinsätzen mehr teilnehmen. Es gibt kaum fahrbereite Schiffe dafür. Die Deutschen stehen im Ruf, vorausschauend zu handeln und auf Vorsorge zu setzen. Bei der Bundeswehr hat die Politik diese Prinzipien über Bord geworfen. Für die U-Boote fehlen Ersatzteile, die bei der Anschaffung aus Spargründen nicht mitgekauft wurden. Bei den übrigen Schiffen sieht es kaum besser aus. Selbst auf simple Teile wie Einspritzpumpen für Motoren muss die Marine monatelang warten.

Der Zustand der Bundeswehr sei der kritischste seit ihrer Gründung im Jahr 1955, sagt Hans-Heinrich Dieter, ehemaliger Stellvertreter des Generalinspekteurs. Die Truppe sei kaputtgespart worden, obwohl sie vor grösseren Aufgaben denn je stehe. 3600 deutsche Soldaten sind derzeit auf 13 Auslandsmissionen eingesetzt, etwa in Afghanistan und Mali. Seit 2014 hat sich auch die Sicherheitslage in Europa verändert. Russland hält die Krim besetzt und führt im Osten der Ukraine Krieg. Daher hat die Nato Soldaten nach Polen und ins Baltikum verlegt. Auch die Bundeswehr ist beteiligt und soll 2019 die Führung der sogenannten schnellen Eingreiftruppe übernehmen. Nur wie?

Derzeit wäre das deutsche Militär der Aufgabe kaum gewachsen. Von 44 vorgesehenen Kampfpanzern stünden nur 9 zur Verfügung, zitiert «Die Welt» aus einem Papier des Verteidigungsministeriums. Auch Nachtsichtgeräte, Winterkleidung und Schutzwesten fehlten. Die Defizite sollen nun aus Beständen anderer Verbände gedeckt werden. «Für den Einsatz kannibalisiert man den Bestand zu Hause», sagt Christian Mölling, Forschungsdirektor der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik.

Seit dem Kollaps der Sowjetunion war Abrüstung in Deutschland die sicherheitspolitische Maxime. In den neunziger Jahren wurde der Verteidigungshaushalt entsprechend eingedampft. Zuvor hatte die Lage im Westen des geteilten Landes völlig anders ausgesehen. Man wappnete sich jahrzehntelang gegen einen Überfall aus dem Osten. Die Bundeswehr hatte eine halbe Million Soldaten, heute sind es 180 000. Die Zahl der Kampfpanzer sank von 2000 auf etwa 250.

«Panzer zählen ist einfach, spiegelt das Problem aber nicht wider», sagt Mölling. Logistik, Vernetzung und Taktik seien wichtiger als reine Feuerkraft. Für Mölling ist die entscheidende Frage: Können die Streitkräfte eine grosse Operation durchführen, mit eng verzahnt agierenden Verbänden und Unterstützung von Cyber-Kräften? Dafür müssten sie als Ganzes einsetzbar sein, und genau das ist die Bundeswehr laut dem Wehrbeauftragten nicht. Mölling sieht das auch so. Gemäss dem Bundeswehr-Weissbuch wolle Deutschland das Rückgrat der europäischen Streitkräfte sein, aber dazu sei es bis jetzt nicht gut genug aufgestellt. Im Jahr 2015 führte das zu einer grotesken Situation: Deutsche Panzer mussten mit aufgesteckten Besenstielen an einer Nato-Übung teilnehmen. Sie sollten Geschützrohre simulieren, die nicht verfügbar waren.

Die Bundeswehr könnte Deutschland heute nicht alleine verteidigen, darüber sind sich die Experten einig. Das sei aber auch nie geplant gewesen, sagt Hilmar Linnenkamp vom Deutschen Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit. Die Verteidigung solle im Bündnis erfolgen, und die nuklear bewaffneten Streitkräfte der USA hätten sich stets als Sicherheitsgarant für Europa verstanden. Allerdings argumentieren ehemalige Generäle, Deutschland dürfe kein sicherheitspolitischer Trittbrettfahrer Amerikas sein. Dies nicht zuletzt deshalb, weil Präsident Donald Trump ein unberechenbarer Partner ist und mehrmals betont hat, dass sich Europa stärker um die eigene Sicherheit kümmern müsse.

Deutliche Worte für die deutsche Schieflage findet der CDU-Politiker Norbert Röttgen, der den Auswärtigen Ausschuss des Bundestags leitet. Wenn der Staat erkläre, dass er die äussere Sicherheit Deutschlands und der Bündnispartner nicht gewährleisten könne, dann sei das nicht hinnehmbar: «Das ist ein Skandal, der die Bürger in ihrem Vertrauen in die Bundesrepublik erschüttert.»

Es mangelt aber nicht nur an Geld. Seit die Wehrpflicht ausgesetzt ist, hat die Truppe auch ein Personalproblem, besonders Fachkräfte fehlen. Die freie Wirtschaft zahlt besser als die Bundeswehr, deren Image als Arbeitgeber in der deutschen Gesellschaft angekratzt ist. Mögliche Bewerber werden von immer neuen Berichten über die marode Ausrüstung verunsichert.

Die Bundesregierung hat inzwischen reagiert. Sie investiert seit vergangenem Jahr wieder etwas mehr ins Militär. Dieses Jahr soll der Verteidigungshaushalt bei 38,5 Milliarden Euro liegen, bis 2021 soll er auf 42 Milliarden steigen.

Polemik um «Aufrüstung»

Kritiker aus den linken Parteien warnen schon jetzt vor einer Aufrüstung. «Das Geld, das Frau Merkel für Aufrüstung will, muss in die Bildung», hatte der SPD-Kanzlerkandidat Martin Schulz im Wahlkampf gefordert. Die Aufrüstungsbehauptung sei polemisch, sagt der Militärexperte Linnenkamp. Es gehe um Aufholen, nicht um Aufrüsten, denn höhere Verteidigungsausgaben würden vor allem die heutigen Mängel beseitigen.

Die Nato-Mitgliedstaaten haben vereinbart, langfristig jeweils 2 Prozent ihres Bruttoinlandprodukts in die Verteidigung zu investieren. Derzeit liegen die Deutschen bei 1,2 Prozent. Die Bundesrepublik hat bis zum Jahr 2024 Zeit, um den Zielwert zu erreichen. Experten zweifeln, ob das realistisch ist, und der Verteidigungsexperte Mölling gibt zu bedenken, dass die Rüstungsindustrie die Preise erhöhen würde, sobald in den Nato-Ländern deutlich mehr Geld für Rüstung vorhanden wäre.

Die Branche profitiert ohnehin von der angespannten Sicherheitslage. Im vergangenen Jahr haben die Waffenverkäufe weltweit zugenommen. Auch die deutschen U-Boot-Hersteller haben volle Auftragsbücher, weshalb es Herbst werden dürfte, bis die Flotte der Bundeswehr wieder seetüchtig ist. Sie geniesst als Kunde bei Reparaturen oder Ersatzteillieferungen keinen Vorrang vor Auftraggebern aus anderen Ländern. Die deutschen U-Boote, die heute durch die Weltmeere tauchen, stehen nicht unter deutscher Flagge.


Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat*Turkey Tests the Waters Off the Coast of Cyprus

By Xander Snyder

While a great deal of attention has been paid to Turkey’s invasion of Afrin, Syria, foreign intervention by Turkey has not been limited to its actions in the Middle East.

On Feb. 9, Turkish warships blocked an Italian ship contracted by the Italian energy conglomerate Eni that was heading toward Cyprus to begin exploring for natural gas, marking the first time in recent history that Turkey has actively blocked passage of a European ship. In response, Italy sent one of its frigates (which was already scheduled for deployment for pre-planned NATO exercises) to patrol Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, although its captain was reportedly ordered to avoid direct confrontation with the Turkish vessels blocking Eni’s drilling rig.

Eni, France’s Total and Exxon Mobil are all licensed by the Greek Cypriot government to engage in natural gas exploration off the southern coast of Cyprus. According to both Eni and Total, which are partners in a Cyprus exploration venture, there could be up to 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the area, which would make it the largest reserve in the Mediterranean. Eni is a private company, but obstruction of the economic interests of a major energy conglomerate by a foreign country will certainly draw the attention of other governments. Turkey claims that Cyprus had no right to dole out drilling contracts to the European companies since the new reserves, which are in block 3 of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, fall under the jurisdiction of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. However, while Turkey claims that Northern Cyprus’ EEZ overlaps with that of the Republic of Cyprus, no other country besides Turkey recognizes Northern Cyprus’ sovereignty.

(click to enlarge)

Turkey’s naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean is not new – it maintains warships off its western coast, and in 2014 it contracted a seismographic vessel to explore potential gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus. This raises a question: Why would it engage in a confrontation now? The proximate cause is the new gas reserve, discovered by Eni just last week. Turkey wants to become a larger energy exporter, which has driven it in the past to cooperate with Iraqi Kurdistan in exporting oil to Turkey despite its general antagonism toward Kurdish groups. But Turkey’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean brought it into conflict with the West long before oil and gas came to be the world’s primary sources of energy. What makes Cyprus a flashpoint for Euro-Turkish conflict?

Gateway to the Eastern Mediterranean

Cyprus, which sits about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast at its closest point, was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1571 until the empire’s collapse after World War I. Before 1571, Cyprus was held by the Italian city-state of Venice, which exposed the Ottomans to the presence of a foreign power. At the time, Venice was a wealthy, merchant city-state that, while not particularly powerful on land, had one of the most formidable navies in Europe. The Ottomans did not have to worry about the risk of a land invasion from Venice, but the Venetian stronghold on Cyprus did pose a major threat to Ottoman shipping and trade. The Ottomans needed to maintain open supply lines to northern Africa, which they depended on for much of their trade and therefore wealth, and Venice frequently used its position on Cyprus to disrupt these trade routes. When the Ottomans invaded the island in 1571, the war that resulted between a European coalition (the Holy League) and the Ottomans saw one of the largest naval battles in history and the largest confrontation of galleys (boats powered by oar) in modern history. While naval battles are no longer fought by boats powered by oars, Cyprus’ location still poses strategic risks to Turkey’s position in the Eastern Mediterranean.

(click to enlarge)

Turkey’s recent confrontation with Italy, while a far more minor affair than in the past, has significant historical precedent, and the geopolitics underlying this precedent remain today. To establish a greater buffer space to its west, Turkey must have control of the Eastern Mediterranean, and this control hinges upon Cyprus. To date, Cyprus has been a weak state, and Turkey’s primary concern in the Mediterranean has been its longtime rival Greece. (Antagonism surfaced this week when Greece claimed that a Turkish coast guard ship purposefully rammed a Greek coast guard ship in the Aegean Sea.) If Cyprus were to open its doors to Western Europe to take advantage of its newfound resources, Turkey would then be faced with a situation in which countries far more powerful than Greece have vested economic interests in the island that depend on Turkey’s exclusion.

That said, the current confrontation is unlikely to lead to imminent conflict between Turkey and Western Europe. Instead, Turkey will use the standoff to pry political and economic concessions from Cyprus, where unification talks overseen by the United Nations broke down last year due to Turkey’s refusal to withdraw its 30,000-40,000 troops stationed on the island. While negotiations have stalled, Turkey hopes that by making life more difficult for Cyprus, Italy and France, the three countries will be more likely to concede to Turkey’s desire to remain on the island. Failing this, and if Italy were to confront Turkey with a substantial naval presence, Turkey would most likely back down and try to negotiate concessions from the natural gas operations off Cyprus’ coast, while maintaining its claim that Northern Cyprus is a sovereign state with rights to its EEZ.

Whether this standoff develops into something more than grandstanding depends in part on Turkey and in part on how deeply Italy and Western Europe need to establish and maintain a presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey needs to establish a buffer on its Mediterranean shores, but there is also a strategic rationale for Italian and Western European presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, beyond their business interests – a topic for another article.


Middle East

Asia Times: Afrin marks the point of collapse for American influence in Syria

Washington’s abandonment of the Kurds left them with no other choice but to turn to the Assad government and its Russian backers.

It’s Moscow’s chessboard now.

Abandoned by Washington and under bombardment by the Turkish army, the beleaguered Kurdish forces in the northern Syrian town of Afrin asked for, and received, help from Russia. A spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia announced on February 20 that the Russian-backed government of Bashar al-Assad would send reinforcements to Afrin to assist the Kurds. France24 reported that a convoy of pro-Assad forces entering Afrin came under Turkish artillery fire, and Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan claimed the government forces had to turn back.

The situation on the ground is unclear, but what is painfully clear is that Kurds have been abandoned by the United States less than a month after the Pentagon announced the formation of a 30,000-man ‘Border Security Force’ in northern Syria composed mainly of Kurdish fighters who had pushed ISIS out of the area. Turkey responded to the American initiative by invading northern Syria and bombing the Kurds, reportedly killing several hundred civilians. In deference to Turkey, the United States did nothing, so the Kurds asked for help from Russia.

As Alfred Hackenberger wrote in the German daily Die Welt, on February 19: “Russia would belong to the winners in the case of a Syrian-Kurdish military alliance. It would expand Russia’s military control of the country markedly. And Turkey would have to stop its invasion of Afrin, because a confrontation with Syrian soldiers would bring it directly into conflict with Russia.”

The siege of Afrin, to be sure, seems a minor episode in the long and miserable course of Syria’s civil war, but it may turn out to demarcate the point that American influence in the region collapsed beyond repair. Trained by the US and German armed forces, the Kurds represented the only effective force on the ground independent of the Russian-backed Assad regime following the defeat of Sunni militias backed by the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Kurdish resurgence in Syria, though, drew a ferocious response from Turkey, which fears that Kurdish self-government spanning Iraq and Syria on its southeastern border would link up with its own rapidly-growing Kurdish population. More than half of Turkey’s population under 30 will be ethnic Kurds by the mid-2040s.

“For the US administration, American assets in the region are like hotels on the Monopoly board, to be protected individually and piecemeal. No unified strategy ranks their relative importance or gauges whether they might be sacrificed for a larger goal.”

After its painful experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US won’t put boots on the ground beyond the few thousand special forces now deployed in Syria. The Kurds fought as a NATO auxiliary against ISIS and wanted nothing more than an American alliance. The Turks, meanwhile, are NATO members in name only and are hostile to key American interests. Among other things, Turkey is helping Russia to bypass Ukraine in delivering gas to southern Europe via the Turkstream pipeline. The Turks are bargaining hard with Russia, but ultimately will play ball.

Nonetheless, Washington is paralyzed by fear that Turkey might leave NATO if it stands behind the Kurds. “Nobody wants to be the guy who lost Turkey,” an administration official said.

The default view at the Pentagon is that Kurdish autonomy would create chaos in Iraq, threatening the country’s territorial autonomy. Iraq’s sectarian Shia government is now an ally of Iran, with Iranian-led Iraqi militias deployed in Syria. A little chaos in Iraq would strengthen America’s hand at the expense of Iran.

For Washington, the path of least resistance was to use the Kurds to fend off ISIS and then hang them out to dry. That left the Kurds with no other choice but to turn to the Assad government and its Russian backers. As a result, Russia is now the key ally both of the Assad government and the Kurdish militias that the US envisioned as its boots on the ground in the region.

Israel, America’s only real ally in the region, realized the consequences immediately. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deputy minister for public diplomacy, Michael Oren, told Bloomberg News on February 12: “The American part of the equation is to back us up,” but the US “has almost no leverage on the ground. America did not ante up in Syria. It’s not in the game.” Two days earlier, an Israeli F-16 was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile over Syria. Most reports claim that a Syrian anti-aircraft battery firing a Cold War era A-7 Russian missile downed the plane, but there are also unconfirmed reports that a Russian crew fired at it with a Russian S-200 missile. If that is true, Russia presumably wanted to let the Israelis know who was in charge of the Syrian skies.

A Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter looks through a pair of binoculars outside of Afrin, Syria, on February 17, 2018.

Israel’s diplomacy with Russia appears to have borne results. On February 20, Russia Today reported the TASS news agency quoting Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying (on February 19): “Russia condemns Tehran’s remarks that Israel should be wiped off the map and also believes that solving any regional problems should not be viewed through the prism of a conflict with Iran.” According to the RT report: “He made the statement at the opening of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s conference ‘Russia in the Middle East: Playing on All Fields,’ adding that tensions between Israel and Iran are escalating and there are historical reasons for that.”

Russia does not want an Israeli-Iranian war, but it does want to be the regional power that keeps the two parties from fighting. Israel evidently is beholden to Moscow after the Afrin debacle, which left the United States with no ante in Syria, as Ambassador Oren put it. The projected Kurdish Border Protection Force was the last American piece on the Syrian chessboard, and Washington abandoned it. It is hard to see what sort of leverage the United States can acquire now.

Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess,” was the title of an essay I published ten years ago in this space. For the US administration, American assets in the region are like hotels on the Monopoly board, to be protected individually and piecemeal. No unified strategy ranks their relative importance or gauges whether they might be sacrificed for a larger goal. Russia views its assets as pieces on a chessboard whose only function is to contribute to the single goal of winning the game. They can be sacrificed ruthlessly when circumstances require it. Washington has no strategy – that is, no envisioned end state – for Turkey, Syria, or Iran. And if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.


*Massenbach’s Recommendation*

In Syria, Alliances Shift Again

February 21, 2018 . Turkey’s incursion in northern Syria has some parties reconsidering their allies and enemies.

By Xander Snyder

The nature of the conflict in Syria is changing shape again, with two important developments taking place over the past week. First, Turkey proposed cooperation with the United States in Afrin and Manbij, both of which are held by Syrian Kurds, whom the Turks consider hostile forces. Though no formal agreement has been reached, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the U.S. would work with Turkey to coordinate their actions in Syria. Second, the Syrian Kurds appear to be willing to work with the Syrian regime against the Turkish assault on Afrin. Pro-regime forces reportedly entered Afrin on Feb. 20, a move that would require coordination with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which controls the region.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has downplayed Turkey’s involvement in Afrin, pitching the invasion as both a necessary and low-cost military operation. But the involvement of pro-regime forces changes what will be required of Turkey to take control of the region. So far, Turkey has used a minimal number of its own forces in Afrin and mostly relied on the Free Syrian Army and other anti-Assad groups. But with pro-Assad forces now taking part in the conflict, Turkey will need to do more if it wants a successful outcome.

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Turkey’s Breaking Point

Turkey will have to consider how much blood the Turkish people are willing to shed to take Afrin and the northern corridor in Syria that extends from the border to the Euphrates. It’s hard to know what the breaking point is for the Turks, but we can look to Turkey’s last major military intervention for clues. In its invasion of Cyprus in 1974, Turkey incurred roughly 570 combat deaths. With a total force of 60,000, that is a 1 percent fatality rate for a monthlong operation that secured Turkey’s control of a substantial portion of the island.

Turkey recently said approximately 30 Turkish soldiers have been killed in the monthlong operation in Syria, though this number may be understated. In late January, Haberturk, a Turkish news agency, said 6,400 Turkish soldiers would take part in Operation Olive Branch. Other sources, however, report that Turkey has upward of 15,000-20,000 troops deployed at the Afrin border. (There are also 25,000-30,000 Free Syrian Army militants acting as Turkey’s proxies in Syria.) If the official fatality numbers are to be believed, the Turkish army has incurred a death rate of 0.15 percent to 0.47 percent, well under the death rate in the Cyprus operation, which did not face widespread public backlash. The difference between Cyprus and Afrin, however, is that after a month in Afrin, Turkey doesn’t seem close to securing its military objective.

Syria, the Kurds and a Possible Settlement

Bashar Assad’s goal in Syria now is to regain control of as much territory as possible. With Turkey joining the fray in Afrin and inching closer to Aleppo, a critical city over which Syrian forces have already fought a bloody battle, Assad has a choice: either escalate his military conflict with Turkey and its proxies, or come to a settlement. To win a military victory in the region, Assad would need to move his forces along the southern edge of Afrin until they reach the Turkish border in the west and then turn farther south until pro-Turkish forces in Afrin and Idlib – a region largely controlled by another Turkish proxy, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – are surrounded. Assad will try to encircle Turkish proxies in Idlib and cut off their supply routes to Turkey.

From the regime’s perspective, therefore, working with the Kurds makes sense. It can use the 8,000-10,000 YPG fighters in Afrin to repel the Turkish invasion and avoid expending its own resources. It also makes sense for the Kurds, who are facing a Turkish assault with few allies, since the U.S. has said it will not support the YPG in Afrin.

But Turkey also has plans to surround the YPG and cut off access to its allies. On Feb. 20, Erdogan announced that the Turkish military will in the next several days attempt to envelop Afrin, blocking the YPG from receiving support from pro-Assad forces. Turkey and Assad are therefore applying the same strategy to different regions, while trying to avoid a confrontation that could draw in more outside powers and escalate the conflict.

This situation could give rise to a tactical settlement in Afrin. Faced with the risk of a far bloodier battle than it anticipated, Turkey may be willing to halt its advance if the Syrian regime – and by extension, Iran and Russia – agrees to move the Kurds out of Afrin and Manbij to an area east of the Euphrates, and if it could also guarantee to control the Kurds’ actions thereafter. The Syrian government could then take control of areas that have been held by semi-autonomous Kurdish entities for several years. The Syrian Kurds might also agree to this arrangement – it would allow them to avoid even more bloodshed, and they could negotiate a role for themselves in the Syrian government. Iran, an Assad ally, might also accept an agreement because it would reverse Turkey’s advance east. Such a settlement wouldn’t end the Syrian war, but it would help temper the conflict in Afrin.

The success of this type of settlement depends on whether Turkey would be satisfied with an agreement to relocate the Kurds. If Turkey’s ultimate goal in Operation Olive Branch is to secure greater strategic depth – and we believe it is – rather than to simply clear the YPG presence in Afrin as Ankara claims, then such a settlement will be a harder pill to swallow. But the Turkish public may not tolerate a sustained, costly military operation in Syria. If Turkey does agree to a settlement, it is safe to conclude that Turkey’s rise as a regional power will be accompanied by some setbacks.

Russia and Iran Compete for Control

For its part, Russia wants a settlement that would leave Assad strong and willing to follow Russia’s – not Iran’s – lead. This might involve Assad regaining control of Afrin. Russian President Vladimir Putin would get to declare victory and get Russian forces out before too many more get killed. Russia has already made one proposal that involved the handover of Afrin to Damascus, although it was rejected by the Kurds.

But Russia has also signaled that it is willing to allow a Turkish presence in Afrin. Putin was willing to work with Turkey during Operation Olive Branch, allowing it access to Afrin’s airspace. Erdogan also said he spoke to Putin on Feb. 19 and convinced him to prevent the Syrian army from deploying to the region. (So far, only pro-regime militants have reportedly been deployed.) It appears for now that Putin will let the regime fight back against Turkey – but within limits. After all, if a large portion of the Syrian army were to be redeployed, Russia would have to contribute more resources to the offensive in Idlib.

Russia can accept the Turkish presence in Afrin because Russia stands to benefit from the heightening competition between two regional powers that are on opposite sides of the Syrian war: Turkey and Iran. Russia has been tactically cooperating with both, but ultimately it wants neither to emerge from the war in an overwhelmingly powerful position. Right now, Iran has the strongest position in the Middle East, able to wield power in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Russia and Iran both support Assad, but Moscow doesn’t want Tehran to be able to challenge Russian interests either in the Middle East or in the Caucasus.

Luckily for Russia, it can wait longer than Iran can. Every move Turkey makes eastward brings it closer to a confrontation with Iran in Iraq. So long as Turkey and Iran are fighting each other (or each other’s proxies) and stay south of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, Russia can afford to be minimally involved.

Russia and Iran are effectively playing a game of chicken. Russia knows that Iran cannot afford to have Turkey seriously challenge Assad by taking Afrin and thereby surrounding Aleppo. This will force Iran to spend more blood and treasure on halting the advance in Syria, placing further pressure on Iran’s already strained resources. Russia, meanwhile, can continue to provide minimal air support in Syria. Short of a settlement on Afrin between Syria, the YPG and Turkey, Iran will be forced to commit an ever-increasing number of troops and resources to Syria as Turkey conquers new territory.

Testing U.S.-Turkish Relations

The deployment of pro-regime forces to Afrin complicates Turkey’s proposal to work with the U.S. in Afrin and Manbij. Iran’s rising power has brought U.S. and Turkish interests closer together, despite the United States’ longstanding support for the Kurds. The U.S. now has to decide what’s more important: containing Iran, or supporting the Kurds. While this dynamic plays out, the Islamic State remains a threat, leaving the U.S. looking for allies on the ground willing to fight IS.

Underlying all this is a bigger question: What would Russia do if the U.S. were to engage Assad in a large, more protracted fight? With the Syrian government intervening in Afrin, U.S. cooperation with Turkey could bring Washington into direct conflict with Assad. The U.S. is loath to become bogged down in another war in the Middle East and will encourage Turkey to come to an agreement with Assad that lets the U.S. maintain a minimal force there to fight IS. If Turkey wants to press its advantage, rather than suffer what it may perceive as a setback, it will be yet another test of U.S.-Turkish relations.


Nordwest Zeitung, Oldenburg16.02.2018

Türkisch-deutsche Beziehungen


Alexander Will

Die Kanzlerin hat also den Wasserträger des türkischen Präsidenten empfangen. Die öffentliche Wahrnehmung solcher Kontakte bleibt jedoch merkwürdig verengt. Solch selbst gewählte Halbblindheit dürfte eine lange schon notwendige Wende in der deutschen Türkeipolitik hin zu mehr Distanz deutlich erschweren.

Der Fall Deniz Yücel wurde nämlich in dieser Wahrnehmung in den vergangenen Wochen zum entscheidenden Streitpunkt zwischen Berlin und Ankara. In der Tat: Da wird einem deutschen Staatsbürger von türkischer Seite schwerstes Unrecht angetan, und die Bundesregierung tut gut daran, hier massiv einzuschreiten. Nur: Der Fall Yücel ist eben keineswegs die Hauptursache objektiv bestehender, tiefer Interessengegensätze zwischen Deutschland und der Türkei. Es ist eben nicht „alles wieder gut“, wenn dieser eine Journalist irgendwann frei kommt.

Auch dann ändert das Schurken-Regime unter Erdogan nämlich nicht seinen Charakter: Es bleibt protofaschistisch und totalitär. Auch dann sitzen noch über 150 Journalisten in türkischen Gefängnissen. Auch wenn Yücel frei kommt, wird das Regime weiterhin versuchen, die in Deutschland lebenden Türken als fünfte Kolonne zu missbrauchen. Es wird weiter über den aus Ankara gesteuerten Moscheenverband Ditib sein islamistisches Gift verspritzen, weiter Menschen in Deutschland bespitzeln und einschüchtern. Zudem sind der Angriffskrieg der türkischen Regierung gegen die Kurden in Syrien und seine neo-osmanischen Fantasien gewichtige Argumente, die Regierung in Ankara endlich zu isolieren, sie wirtschaftlich unter massiven Druck zu setzen, die militärische Zusammenarbeit einzustellen und darauf hinzuwirken, die Nato-Mitgliedschaft des Landes zu suspendieren.

Sowohl aus innen- wie aus außenpolitischen Erwägungen darf die deutsche Regierung also nicht der Versuchung erliegen, eine Freilassung Yücels als Tauwetter in Ankara fehl zu interpretieren. Insgesamt ist es falsch und schädlich, dem Despoten Erdogan um den Bart zu gehen. Wenn Deutschland der Türkei aber wirklich helfen will, gilt es, die demokratische Opposition im Land zu stärken.,0,3826354370.html



see our letter on:

*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*


02-20-18 Deutsche Bank Research – Germany_Party Time PROD0000000000460882.pdf

02-20-18 Major Challenges for the Military and Security Services in Syria + US Nuclear Policy Upgraded – The Russian Factor + Georgia + Cyber Threats.pdf