Symptoms of the Deviation of Turkish Armed Forces from West


Symptoms of the Deviation of Turkish Armed Forces from West

Over the last year, political deviation of Turkish government from the West to the East is widely reported by Western media. Now it is obvious that the axis of Turkey is deviating from western allies to Russia. However, this could not be accepted as a usual policy change due to national interests. Keeping in mind the ground-zero level relations after downed Russian Jet on the Turkish border, the speed of the deviation would be seen better.  As being a balancing actor in Foreign Policy, Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) put the brakes on disruptive policies of the politicians by advising international responsibilities and security risks. Therefore, contrary to expectations, Turkey’s drastic and rapid deviation to Russia could not be possible without a military consent.

Russia has started first out of area mission in Syria since the end of the Cold War and that is a symbol of Russian military’s return back to Cold War norms. The presence of Russian mobile[1] A2/AD (anti-access/area denial) assets increased the threat perception of Allied countries from Russia’s “near abroad” into East Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The main concern was how to conduct joint entry operations and neutralize A2/AD threat in those areas. Turkey’s geographic position and the presence of NATO-integrated TAF assets in the area were very critical to balance the threat.

Turkey was mostly affected by the growing threat in its neighboring areas since 2008, but NATO’s Article 5 protection was the guarantor of its defense. However, Turkey’s threat perception has changed from external[2]  to “internal security” after the 15 July coup attempt. The shift in threat perception supplemented with suspicions over Western support to the coup attempt and thus leads to Erdogan-Putin rapprochement.

How was TAF consent received?

As a result of coup attempt happened on 15 July 149 Generals (45.8%) together around 60 % (or more) of the flag officers and general staff officers of TAF are purged.  Which is not dissimilar to NATO posts, 509 (%71) officer’s tour have been terminated in various NATO and Military Attaché positions. A list of expelled generals and staff officers show most were officers who gave priority to Atlantic ties and held strong pro-NATO stances. NATO officers/generals, whose common denominators are being western minded, egalitarian, secular, politically non-biased, honest and successful, purged from their positions.

Just after the coup attempt, all generals, officers even NCO’s who were not classified as being affiliated with pro-government movements, and cannot be controlled, were expelled or detained. Pro-government groups in the TAF are; Perincek Group (those with Eurasian perspective), SADAT group (radical political Islamists, who allegedly ran training camps for  ISIS  in  Turkey  in  addition  to smuggling weapons and personnel to Syria) and opportunistic  generals/officers  (those,  who  were  basically exploiting the situation by  establishing  close  relations  with  the  governing  party).

Purge of Western-minded officers will lead to the reorganization of TAF, increase in the power of Eurasianist officers in the TAF by appointing to critical positions, and deviation from the western alliance. Infiltration of Perincek group into the TAF had begun in 1970s when leftist movements during the Cold War were at their height. As being the currently dominant group in TAF, Eurasianists have made a temporary alliance with the SADAT followers in TAF with the principle of “enemy of my enemy is my friend”.  It is very clear that Eurasianist are not associated with Erdogan mindset and this leads to some critical and even threatening announcements to the Erdogan’s policies. Having been established solely for short-term interests, this alliance destined to fail due to different motivations and agendas of the groups. What is not known is who controls Euroasianists’ agenda? Is it Russia or Erdogan? Whoever it is, it seems that both possibilities are advantageous for Russia.

As expected, reorganization of the TAF began with the clash of afore-mentioned groups to grab desired positions on the way of controlling TAF. As mentioned by Michael Rubin[3], after the purge of almost all Western-minded officers and generals, the power struggles are now more visible and parties are preparing for big battle by recruiting and arming supporters. It is known that the military personnel who are associated with Sadat group have been assigned to various Human Resources Departments of the TAF. That has been done intentionally to balance Eurasianist group in favor of Erdogan and Erdogan called retired SADAT members per task with an emergency decree. It is reported by media channels that thousands of weapons and military equipment are unlocated since 15 July, which can be only explained by two groups’ militarization against each other. Whoever wins, that will lead to instability and chaos in Turkey, which will have impacts on European security structure. Turmoil in Turkey would also prevail over Europe. Europe may not be able to stay away from it as they did in Syria Crisis.

15 July 2016 coup attempt can be seen as a milestone towards the enhancement of Turkish-Russian military relations.  Main transformation projects in TAF had been carried by purged Western-minded officers and generals. Purge of those personnel halted 30 years long of military transformation towards NATO and has led to start of a new era of “isolation from West” and “biat” (to swear allegiance) culture.

 What are the symptoms of the Deviation of TAF?

The purge of Western-minded officers enhanced the coordination between Russia and Turkey on the military level. The first top-level meeting happened in Ankara on 15 September. The meeting was a symbol of the military leg of the normalization process, which has started first on the political level. One of the most important outcomes of the talks is that both top soldiers agree that regional problems can only be resolved through joint initiatives of regional countries as Turkish military sources described the meeting as “fruitful.”

Military coordination has resulted in some outcomes in the field. The parties agreed to form a joint military and intelligence mechanism to coordinate their activities in the Middle East, including Syria. With this mechanism, joint operations against ISIS could be started. In this case, Turkey would be able to make cross-border interventions against PYD forces in Northern Syria to prevent completion of Kurdish corridor. Turkey’s policy moves against PYD in Syria caused politic tensions with the US and weakened military coordination. It is assessed that Turkey’s disagreements with the US over PYD has been exploited by Russia to her advantage.

Military coordination has continued with the two sides agreed on intelligence sharing in support of Turkish unilateral Operation Euphrates Shield on 24 October. That was an indicator of Turkey’s lack of military intelligence in the Northern Syria during the time of operation. Military Intelligence Collection assets had been handed over to “National Intelligence Service” (MIT) as part of a transformation process. After that development Turkish General Staff has been dependent on MIT intelligence for to understand the crisis close to the Turkish border. MIT’s inability to meet the expectations of military necessities is evident in poor planning and ineffective targeting during the Operation Euphrates Shield during which more than 40 Turkish personnel killed in action till today.

Russian officials said Turkey quietly joined the pool on intelligence sharing created by Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran. This is also in line with Turkish MoD statement suggesting the operation was coordinated with the agreement of Russian, Iranian and even Syrian officials through “indirect communication channels. That is a clear example of TAF officials are in daily contact with Russia, Iranian and even Syrian officials. However, Turkey’s intelligence sharing with non-NATO countries created concerns over the safety of NATO intelligence network. Turkey’s intelligence sharing with non-NATO entities is possible and cannot be controlled at the moment.

On 12 January 2017, Russian and Turkish military officials signed a memorandum on combat flight safety during missions – and agreed to coordinate airstrikes against terrorists in Syria. Al-Bab is an obvious area for these efforts. With that Turkish-Russian military cooperation will be observed in the air and on the ground. As a result of that cooperation Russian and Turkish aircrafts have been reported to start a joint operation together in the vicinity of Bab where US UAVs has conducted airstrikes in the previous week. The symbolic meaning of the presence of the Russian jets in the area clearly indicates that US-Turkish partnership in Syria is weakening which is replaced by Russia.

Incirlik is also a very important base for the US in the power balance of the region due to; US nuclear weapons in it, it’s key role in US and allied operations in the Middle East and many other military strategic factors. Having Russians on its side, Turkey is trying to change US policies in Syria and Iraq by using closure of Incirlik Base card. On the other hand, since the beginning of Syrian Crisis, Russia is accumulating its military power in the region. Russia sees Incirlik Base as an obstacle before its dominance in the region. As a result of current deviation from the Western world, Erdogan regime and its media outlets intentionally keeping the closure of Incirlik Base on the agenda.

Military rapprochement with Russia come along with cooperation in the field of defense industry. As a result of this, despite NATO summit declaration in Warsaw (June 2016) calling for freezing military contacts of its members with Russia, formal and informal negotiations on Air and Missile Defence Systems and many other Russian arms already started. That decreased Turkey Foreign Policy’s credibility. Possible delivery of S-400 systems to Turkey will likely improve Russian A2/AD posture in the region, which will also threaten allied countries military presence in the area. That will also enable for Russia to track the air picture of allied assets. By the way, it should also be noted that a similar purge of Western-minded, politically unbiased personnel happened at “Under-secretariat for Defence Industries”, which is the institution responsible for modernization projects of the TAF.

Security Implications for Europe

The Turkish-Russian military partnership is against the founding principle of the NATO, which is primarily established for collective defense. Moreover, during the times when Russia is challenging the European Security with illegal interventions, ie in Ukraine, Turkish-Russian military partnership is a symbol of how Erdogan is disrespectful to international law and responsibilities. Turkey’s bilateral military partnership with Russia will likely have negative consequences for her.

If the Turkish and Russian partnership remains limited to Syria, that won’t likely harm Turkey’s military and diplomatic relations in the short term with NATO. However, this partnership will be benefited by Russia-only by filling the place of US military foothold (ie Bab and Incirlik) and makes Turkish military dependent on its military power. This option is likely as long as two countries have mutual interests in Syria and the Middle East. When interests clash over Syria, Turkey will find itself isolated even from West and Russia.

Eurasianist officers/generals who have replaced the purged officers in NATO posts already started to criticize NATO policies and strategies in Turkey and not hesitate to announce pro-Russian views on NATO headquarters. If the military partnership with Russia enhances out of Syria, that will lock the decision making process of the Alliance; will be seen as against to the founding principle of the Alliance and will put Alliance documentation and intelligence at risk. These will lead to the weakening of Alliance. In this situation, it is highly likely that NATO will suspend military relations with Turkey. Diplomatic relations with Turkey will be maintained in order to keep the coherence of the Alliance but suspect to change with a sudden and irrational foreign policy outcome. West would not want to lose Turkey but a problematic country against Western policies should not be tolerated anymore.


As TAF has been an important member of the Western security bloc and a strong member of the NATO, there is no doubt that dismissal of western, minded officers/generals begin to have major effects on TAF’s strategic identity and organizational culture. Due to the prominent role of TAF in Turkish political structure and in NATO, these effects have reflections in both.  We begin to see the military symptoms of this deviation in TAF and will continue to see more symptoms in the upcoming days.

[1] Frigate, submarine and aircraft loaded anti-access and area denial systems.

[2] Russia; as seen in previous NATO summits Turkey asking for NATO support in order to neutralize Russian threat

[3]Michael Rubin: Turkey is Headed for a Bloodbath,


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