China and Russia conducted a six-day military exercise last week. The exercise simulated attacks on both countries from ballistic and cruise missiles. The Chinese Ministry of Defense declined to identify which country was the simulated aggressor in the exercise, but it’s not hard to figure out that it was the United States.
The possible creation of a new geopolitical reality in the Middle East may have snuck under the radar this holiday weekend. The continuing spectacle of the investigations into Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 Election and the continued naming and shaming of corporate leaders and politicians involved in sexual harassment (as well as Thanksgiving), may have overshadowed the summit in Sochi between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, shortly after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited President Putin in the same city (and thanked him for “saving Syria”).
Major military exercises are never a simple routine but carry important political significance. This is the case with the recent Russian military manoeuvres of Zapad 2017, which took place in Belarus as well as in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad – bordering the territory of two NATO Baltic States – on 14-20 September. The exercise was closely monitored by European and US military and political elites and caused considerable concern in Poland and the Baltic states.
The recent statement by Turkish President Erdogan that Ankara had made an advance payment to Russia for the purchase of two S-400 air defense batteries, combined with Russia’s confirmation of this report, constitutes a significant development that adds to the question marks about Turkey’s future in NATO. This development also strengthens Russia’s standing in the Middle East, because it is another expression of the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara. However, the Turkish-Russian rapprochement does not by itself reduce the leverage available to the West in its relations with Turkey, above all the defense relations in the context of NATO and the extensive trade between Turkey and the European Union. While many believe that Turkey will remain a NATO member for the foreseeable future, they note at the same time that Turkey is a problematic member of the alliance that is already suffering from quite a few internal tensions.