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Russian S-400 undermines Turkey's plan to impose safe zone in Syria

The deployment of Russia's S-400 missile air defense system and the intensified Russian airstrikes in northern Syria have undermined Ankara's plan to impose a safe zone on the Syrian side of the Syria-Turkey borders, analysts say.

Less than 84 hours after Turkey shot down a Russian war jet on charges of violating the Turkish airspace, Moscow sent its powerful S-400 new anti-aircraft missile system to Syrian Latakia's airbase of Hmaimim, where the Russian air force is currently stationing.

As Russia denied the Turkish version of events and insisted the Russian jet didn't infiltrate the Turkish airspace, Moscow earlier said it would have sent the S-400 if it had "entertained the possibility of a traitorous backstab" from Turkey, in a sign of the heightened tension between the two powers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russia Today that there was previously no need for the deployment of the S-400 in Syria, because "no one imagined the Russian aircraft could be in danger."

The S-400 Triumf, a new generation of anti-aircraft missile system, is capable of hitting an airborne target at a distance of up to 400 km with medium- and long-range missiles.

After the Turkish downing of the Russian plane, Russia has moved the Moskva guided missile cruiser off the coast of Syria's northwestern province of Latakia. The cruiser is equipped with early warning systems and eight S-300F Fort anti-air systems with a range of 90 km.

As the new air defenses were being installed, the Russian air force went on a barrage of airstrikes against the Turkey-backed rebels in northern Syrian on the Syria-Turkey borders, specifically targeting all convoys the rebels were receiving from Turkey via rebel-held Syrian border-crossings in the northern province of Aleppo.

Osama Danura, a political analyst, told Xinhua that "the Russian response to the downing of its war jet is characterized by decisiveness and prudence."

He added that the Russians didn't hasten toward a direct military confrontation with Turkey. On the contrary, the response came on other different levels, including economic, political and diplomatic levels.

"But the military response was so obvious and extremely effective. Deploying the S-400 missile system in the Hmaimim airbase and in the Syrian coast in general will have an effect in changing the rules of engagement in the region," he noted.

Danura continued that "the Russians have indicated that they were going to change the rules of engagement when they said that the new defense system will target any plane that could pose a threat to the Russian forces in Syria."

"The Turks were said to have suspended their airstrikes with the US-led anti-terror coalition in Syria and later said they didn't. I think the Turks will not work on averting any kind of confrontation with the Russians," he said.

After enhancing the Russian air defense system in Syria and the arrival of Moskva, Syria now enjoys a monster of air defenses, which make it impossible for Turkish warplanes to move freely in northern Syria, the political analyst said.

He explained that it will be difficult for Turkey to continue striking areas between the border city of Azaz and the city of Jarablus along the borderline between Syria and Turkey in the northern province of Aleppo, where Ankara was planning to create the safe zone.

He and other analysts agree that Turkey's goal was to use the Turkmen rebels in Syria to clear areas from the Islamic State group on the Syrian side of the borders as part of its long-divulged plan to create a "safe zone" in northern Syria.

Imposing a safe zone is extremely important for Turkey as it would enable Ankara to move a huge number of Syrian refugees from its territory to the zone. Turkey would task the Turkmen with running this area and thus cutting the road before Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, whose plan is to connect predominantly-Kurdish areas with one another near the Turkish borders.

"So the safe zone is important for Turkey to get rid of the refugees and to push away the threat of the Kurds near its borders," Danura said.

However, with the retaliatory Russian airstrikes on the borders areas and specifically against the Turkmen rebels and the Ahrar al-Sham Movement, another Turkey-backed militant group, Ankara will find it difficult to move freely or to render support to the aforementioned groups.

"The Russians have thwarted the Turkish dream of imposing a buffer zone in northern Syria, with the intensified airstrikes against the Turkey-backed Syrian militants on border areas with Turkey. The Russians have further intensified their airstrikes against border crossings, targeting several rebel-bound shipments," he said.

"The Russians also announced that they will not reduce the strikes near the Turkish borders, which means any Turkish adventure of imposing a buffer zone will hold the risks of confrontation and full war and Turkey alone cannot deal with the consequences and the NATO didn't seem willing to interfere in creating such a zone, which means that the Turkish dream has become a far-fetched hope," Danura added.

Maher Ihsan, another Syrian political analyst, told Xinhua that the deployment of the Russian advanced S-400 system would make Ankara, Israel and NATO think twice before embarking on any move in Syria.

"The presence of such a powerful defense system has been the dream of Syria since a long time ago to eliminate the threats of the aerial aggressions by Israel or Turkey," he said.

The deployment of the S-400, from the strategic point of view, means that Syria has become part of the Russian national security, meaning also that the powers which are antagonist to the Syrian government must rethink their stances, he added.

The new power balance in the region will push other parties to deal with the Syrian situation with prudence, not to rush behind quick and uncalculated moves.

[Source: By Hummam Sheikh Ali, Xinhua, Damascus, 27Nov15]

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