As relations between Russia and Turkey deteriorate, the question of a possible armed conflict between the two countries is being discussed more frequently. RBTH asked Russian and Turkish military experts to comment on how likely this outcome would be and asked them to lay out the possible scenarios.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands after a joint news conference at the new Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey,, Dec. 1, 2014. Photo: AP
The Russian Defense Ministry has accused Turkey of preparing a military intervention in Syria.
"We have serious reasons to suspect Turkey of intensive preparation for a military invasion of a sovereign state – the Syrian Arab Republic," the Ministry said in a statement on Feb. 4.
The Defense Ministry also released images showing what it said was increased activity by the Turkish armed forces on the border with Syria.
"In wartime, this is the way to prepare the transport infrastructure ahead of a military intervention. Such sites are used to ensure the rapid movement of military convoys carrying ammunition and weapons into the war zone, as well as the prompt relocation and evacuation of personnel," the Defense Ministry spokesman said.
Ankara has denied the accusations, saying that "Russia wants to cover up its crimes in Syria" and that "Turkey has the right to take any measures to protect its safety."
Saudi Arabia added fuel to the fire by issuing a statement about the possible deployment of troops to Syria.
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All this has triggered a new wave of speculation on the topic. So what can we expect? Will it be possible to avoid a direct confrontation between Moscow and Ankara or is war inevitable?
War or no war
Vladimir Avatkov, director of the Moscow-based Center of Oriental Studies, assesses the situation as extremely difficult. In his opinion, the likelihood of an armed conflict between Russia and Turkey is very high.
"Turkey had serious plans for Syria," he said. "Russian military action has become an obstacle for them. Ankara now has several options for how to act. Firstly, it may send troops to Syria as part of a coalition. Secondly, it may start to provide more assistance to the Syrian radical opposition. Of course, it may take a wait-and-see attitude and do nothing, but this is unlikely. I think Ankara will actively seek ways to implement the first two scenarios."
However, Kerim Has, a Turkish political scientist from the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), is more optimistic, and says the probability of war is low.
"This is for two reasons: regional risks for the two countries and Turkey's NATO membership. Russia will not want to go to war with NATO because of Syria," said Has.
Any confrontation will take place in Syria
Retired Major General Alexander Kostyukhin, who previously worked in Turkey for a number of years and is well acquainted with the military realities of the country, believes that even in the case of provocations from the Turkish side, Russia will not attack Turkish territory, but limit itself to Syria.
"If Turkey hits Russian forces in Syria, Russia can strike back only in Syria, but not in Turkey," he said.
"However, the Syrian government army, in responding to the actions of Turkey, may enter Turkish territory. That's a possibility. Further development is difficult to predict, because it depends on the degree of involvement of other parties. In particular, on the extent of NATO's support for its member state," he said.
Viktor Nadein-Rayevsky from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) at the Russian Academy of Sciences raises a different question: "Will the Turks will be able to secure air cover in the event of a ground operation by Turkey in Syria?"
According to Nadein-Rayevsky, this is unlikely for Ankara, and a military intervention in Syria is impossible without air cover.
Turkish political analyst Kerim Has, in turn, believes that the Turkish military is not interested in a ground operation in Syria.
"Ankara fears that a Kurdish corridor will be created in northern Syria, which poses a threat to Turkey's territorial integrity," he said.
"To prevent this, the Turkish secret services are carrying out targeted operations in those areas. But there is no question of any large-scale military intervention in Syria."
The article was first published at Russia Beyond The Headlines.