This week sees the latest iteration of the annual large-scale Russian military exercises, held each year in one of the four military districts.

This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Robert Clark. Robert can be found on Twitter at @RobertClark87.

This September the Caucasus region hosts Kavkaz 2020.

In what have been unparalleled global circumstances for much of the year, major NATO exercises have been cancelled due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, including Defender Europe, which would have seen tens of thousands of US and NATO allied troops deploy from Germany and elsewhere across western Europe, rehearsing the reinforcement of NATO’s vulnerable eastern flank.

After standing down from the year’s major military exercises, the British Army have only recently restarted mission specific pre-deployment training for upcoming operations, including that for the UN mission to Mali scheduled for the end of this year. Until September, the British military was heavily involved in military aid to civil authorities combating Coronavirus in the UK.

Not such a quiet summer for Putin’s Russia. Whilst many NATO militaries were involved in the domestic mass-testing of their civilian populations, helping to transport emergency supplies and assisting civil authorities in keeping law and order, the Russian military spent the summer months ramping up their preparations for the Kavkaz 2020 exercise whilst its population was left to grapple with the pandemic.

As other European countries considered how to begin easing lockdown restrictions in July, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced a snap combat readiness exercise of Russian troops. This involved 149,755 service personnel, 26,820 pieces of heavy equipment, 414 aircraft and 106 warships and support vessels of the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla. The scale of these exercises, which covered 35 training grounds and 17 marine ranges, violated international law.

A signatory to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia is bound by the Vienna document, which stipulates that military exercises involving more than 13,000 troops be recorded in advance to provide adequate notice for external invitations and compliance inspections. This was not received by the OSCE, and is a habitually reoccurring legal violation by Russia which seemingly goes unpunished.

The Russian Ministry of Defence stated that the large-scale snap exercise was to assess the ability of the Armed Forces providing security in the Caucasus region, where ‘serious terrorist threats persist’, and to prepare for upcoming Caucasus 2020 strategic command and staff training exercise. This comes despite a very little credible terrorist threat to the region, and has resulted in neighbouring Ukraine expressing concern over Moscow’s true intentions; large-scale troop deployments to Ukraine’s border in 2014, listed as snap inspections, preceded Russia’s invasion of the country in 2014.

Once the snap exercises testing the mobilisation readiness for Kavkaz 2020 were completed, there was a combined fires and C2 exercise in mid-August, tying in the final elements ready for this year’s largest Russian military exercise currently underway. Over 400 tactical episodes tested and refined integrated combined-arms capabilities hard-learned in Syria, and set the conditions for the Russian armed forces to develop their own version of multi-domain operations during Kavkaz 2020.

As well as the significant military preparations going into this exercise, Russia has also been busy cultivating regional allies and partners to take part in the Caucasus manoeuvres, drawing on diplomatic channels with Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) states, a loosely constructed and often fragmented Eurasian security alliance established to counter NATO. China, Pakistan, Iran, and until recently India (who withdrew due to ongoing tensions across the Actual Line of Control with China) among other central Asian states, are all sending troop delegations to take part. Worryingly for NATO, Turkey was amongst those first invited, and is indeed sending a contingent.

Turkey’s involvement in this year’s Russian exercise should not come as a total surprise. Since agreeing to work closer with each other in Syria’s ongoing civil war after December 2019, Ankara and Moscow have developed a mutually beneficial relationship. In the event of a land conflict in Europe, Russia would need guaranteed access to the Bosporus Strait for its Black Sea fleet to break out into the Mediterranean and beyond.

Similarly, Turkey has begun to view Russia as a political ally, if not the geopolitically useful one as Russia does Turkey. With the EU’s stalled progression talks for Turkish membership, Ankara quickly accepted the status of dialogue partner for the largely authoritarian membership of the Chinese and Russian dominated SCO in 2012. Two days after the European Parliament voted unanimously to suspend accession negotiations with Ankara in November 2016, Turkey was granted the chairmanship of the SCO Energy Club for 2017, making it the first country to chair a club in the organisation without full membership status.

Against this backdrop of stalled EU membership cloaked in negative connotations from Brussels, versus an accommodating Russia and China, Turkish President Erdogan has repeatedly stated his potential desire to join the SCO as a full member. Whilst some commentators lambast Turkey on several fronts, including its questionable human rights record and reoccurring restrictions on civil and political freedoms, the cosying up to Russia by NATO’s second largest military (Europe’s largest) is not in the alliance’s interests whatsoever.

Last year’s decision by Turkey to go ahead and purchase Russian-made S-400 air defence systems should have been all the warning needed by NATO of a deepening military relationship between Moscow and Ankara. The S-400 is not only incompatible with NATO systems, it presents enormous military security concerns. In addition to reducing interoperability with alliance members using NATO systems, it affords Russia the opportunity to render useless Turkey’s air defences in times of conflict, through Russia’s considerable technical experience and capability to infiltrate, degrade, and ultimately defeat through cyber and EW its own S-400 systems operated by Turkey. More worryingly in times of a wider conflict, there is the concern that Turkey’s purchase will jeopardise the integrity of NATO’s F-35 stealth fighters.

Nor is this budding relationship strictly limited to Russian-Turkish defence relations; Turkey recently broke ground on its first nuclear power plant that will in fact be Russian made, due to come online in 2023. Just at the precise moment in history in which the west has learnt it needs to decouple from its relationship with China in critical national infrastructure, Turkey is becoming increasingly militarily and politically entangled in another authoritarian web, and one which is increasingly apparent as a threat to western Europe as a whole, and to NATO in particular.

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ChariotRider

President Erdogan is rapidly becoming a significant threat to Western security.

The relationship between Turkey and NATO, particularly European NATO, has always been ‘usual’ and often strained e.g. Turkey’s invasion of Northern Cyprus, but Erdogan has taken Turkey in a very different direction.

We spend all of our time worrying about Russia and China, but will we soon need to add Turkey to the list of immediate threats to our security? This is an odd question to ask about a member of NATO. Perhaps Western politicians need to change their approach towards Turkey? Strange times indeed.

Cheers CR

Ulya

While I am not a fan of Erdogan, but for different reasons than yours I think, can you blame Turkey for looking east? For years they have tried to become EU member and play the western game with no success, if they are being offered an alternative that fills their need, why not take it?

ChariotRider

Hi Ulya,

I agree that the EU as not been entirely fair with Turkey, hence my comment that Western politicians should change their approach to towards Turkey.

Cheers CR

Tim

How has the e.u been unfair with Turkey they had to work through the list of pre conditions to join the e.u that’s all, they couldn’t because they don’t want too, this doesn’t mean they have been unfairly treated Turkeys leader is obviously not too bright as he nearly got his hands on the f35 all he needed to do was wait til he had them then buy the s400 then he could have handed one over to his boyfriend in Russia

dave12

Oh Ulya you are so subtle in your Putin ways lol and you of course try create discord with other NATO allies ,at the end of the day like most regions near Russia, they see a better future west ,less corruption and more financial gain.
Now with turkey ,i cant see them leaving such a good industrial mix all though
I know you would want them to lol!!! trumpski will not be there for you always
,you better wish he is there 😉

Derek

OMG? Trumpski? Just a quick reminder that it was Hillary who paid for Russian operatives’ interference in the 2016 election to undermine Trump. But don’t let facts get in the way of a smear. The Dems certainly never do!

dave12

Sorry yuri you just gave yourself away , no one in the west is that stupid , why dont you just stick to RT, news it makes sense to your poor brainwashed Russian mind lol!!!

Derek

Was the Yuri jibe aimed at me? Only if that is the case does the following apply. If not, I apologise. So, now do what you accuse me of not doing, research. A simple google search of ‘Hillary Clinton, Russian Dossier’ will reveal the details (New York Times do for a start?) There are many other reliable sources. Clinton’s 2016 campaign funds were funneled through a company called Fusion GPS, who employed an exMI6 agent called Christopher Steele to get his Russian contacts to smear Trump. It is now known to be entirely false. The FBI are currently under investigation… Read more »

dave12

LOL and who says Steele Dossier is fake? the nice and white Christian like people lol? ,Trumpski is not the most honest man and he did every thing possible disrupt the
Mueller report. When Trump is gone I suspect a lot more to come out .

AlexS

Irrelevant.

Turkey do not follow western world anymore because western world started to hate themselves.
Why anyone would follow a civilization that hates themselves per opinion of most media, academia and cultural (Marxist)establishment?

Andy

I suspect Erdogan and Putin have been collaborating ever since the failed 2016 Turkish coup.

They both want the restoration of their countries former glories, the Soviet Union and the Ottoman Empire.

I also think that Erdogan is not the only NATO leader collaborating with Putin in the sabotage and break up of the alliance.

George

Hi folks,
I’m sure behind the scenes Western governments must be talking about the value of Turkey being a member of NATO, we all know of the importance of keeping Turkey inside the club, but it does not seem to be working, how far do matters go before the west say issues have gone to far and question the value Turkey being alongside? The situation with Rusia and Turkey is of concern, especially in the region on top Greece up close to central Europe.
Cheers
George

Lordtemplar

Time to remove/suspend Turkey from Nato. Cosying up with Russia etc.. while being aggressive with NATO members.
US airbase at Incirlik should be relocated to Greece. With todays technology in recon and strike capability (satelittes, drones, missiles etc…), the Bosphorus can easily be monitored from Bulgaria or Greece and its numerous islands, no need for Turkey if Nato wants to block that access.
Some contingency planning should be considered to remove Erdogan in case things continue on their downward spiral over the last few years.
Turkey is clearly not an ally
My 2 cents

Ulya

“planning should be considered to remove Erdogan”. With all due respect Lordtemplar, have you learned nothing from Iraq, Syria, Libya etc? What is it with westerners, is it just arrogance or stupidity? I will stop my comment here, as I do not think I can remain polite

RobW

The vast majority of the UK would agree with you I’m sure. There is no appetite here for more ‘interventions’. Turkey is a sovereign state which voted for Erdogan, it’s not our business to change that even if we could.

Airborne

Pretty much the same thought process and concept that potato head Putin thinks, as let’s not mention Libya, Syria, etc as all locations official and unofficial Russian forces are operating. I’m not going to get into a bun fight here but pot/kettle………and remember to list the Countries Putin has invaded as well, cheers.

dave12

Well said Airborne , you know your stuff , Russia under putin has taken many advantages it can, like a coward at arms length, because thats all they can do .Unfortunately its cost a innocent UK life in the process.

Airborne

Mate I’ve come across both serving russkies and the Wagner Group brain dead clowns when in those countries and both are totally unconcerned about the host country and its CIVPOP. Wagner group sees civvys still alive as not yet allocated targets!

dave12

Yeah exactly Airborne, you got to wonder what mentality the high ups in the wagner group had when they decided to take on US special forces in northern Syria with out air cover and getting totally destroyed ,I mean what were they thinking. Apparently the wagner mercs kept asking for a cease fire to collect the wounded and when cease fire was in place thats when they started to advance again and they did that several times on that day.

drewball

I think Russia has more to worry about to the east and the fertile lands that do not have enough people to work the on, and so have a bigger influence via Chinese labour and China is not self sufficient and needs to look else where for resources hence space travel etc. To be honest its pretty obvious really.

AlexS

What is it with westerners, is it just arrogance or stupidity?

Only Westerners? as if “Easterners” don’t try to remove opponents even i their own house.

dave12

To be honest Ulya thats pretty Rich coming from you a pro Putin Russian ,You forget the Russians invasion of the Ukraine, Georgia not to mention Chechnya, and what about Russian mercs fighting against a UN backed government in Libya all of which had no consideration for civilian casualties, and still does not, what about a chemical weapon on UK soil , I think some times you forget yourself on this chat forum and I suggest you wind your neck back in, your nation and its behavior is lacking morals.

ChariotRider

The downside with letting Turkey leave NATO is that they could close NATO’s access to the Black Sea, meaning NATO would not be able to provide maritime support to Bulgaria and Rumania in the event of conflict with Russia. Basically the whole of the eastern flank of NATO would become considerably more vulnerable. If I was Russia looking to rebuild my influence in Eastern Europe I would see the south east as a good place to start. NATO’s week (from Russia’s perspective) response to Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine, some progress in prying a member of NATO anyway from the… Read more »

TrevorH

Turkey is not an ally, not a religious one as opposed
a secular one; but talking about removing wotsisname is silly. There are more ways than that to swing a cat.
No, we should strengthen Greece, not to mention Italy.

Barry Larking

Absolutely agree, M’Lud. The article doesn’t include the problems facing Turkey and Putin’s Russia and they are there, internal and external. On balance the issues can be sorted in N.A.T.O.’s favour by astute moves. However, a Biden victory (and I do not dislike the man personally) might be the worse outcome. We shall see.

Frank62

We can’t trust either Putins Russia or Turkey under Erdogan. NATO must wake up & get at least the major partners upping their forces if we have any serious hopes of protecting democracy & freedom in Europe, especially of the Baltics & the Ukraine. We ourselves have a poor record of cosying up to nasty authoratarian regimes, but I’d like to see more pressure put on Russia & Turkey. How can Turkey remain a full member of NATO while courting Russia? What may be a possibility is a large fundamental Islamic coalition, well equipped, enabled & supported by Russian technicians.… Read more »

Barry Larking

Erdogan is a sort of fellow traveller that Putin would like; neither are as clever as this article seemingly believes. The E.U. ignored its own electorates (or, soon, electorate) in courting Turkey, but they are never asked. Principally because together with Spain it was one of the few countries Germany, the E.U.’s master, had not attacked and ransacked, Turkish ‘guest-workers’ were a significant part of Germany’s re-bound from total defeat; however, Turks do not integrate well and recently have demonstrated this fact on Germany’s streets. Culturally, Turkey was not even vaguely European when negotiations for membership were begun; now, having… Read more »

Ademeion

“As for the scenario that has the Russian fleet breaking out from the Black Sea … The Russians need a Biden victory first.”

I wonder how you came to that conclusion, considering the unfathomable fact that Trump keeps courting both Putin and Erdogan.

Crabfat

Hi Barry… “Arab countries who once had no maps of the region marked ‘Israel’.”

A true story… someone of my acquaintance was a teacher at an English school in Kuwait in the early ’70s. The school ordered a few inflatable globes (of the earth) from UK. When they arrived and were inflated, the kept deflating. It turned out that the Kuwaiti Customs had cut out Israel from the globes!

HMS Monarch

Can confirm! I went to school in Dubai for four years and they still blank it out on the maps even in the British-style school for expats as recently as 2018. Its a lot less taboo now to mention Israel though.

fearlesstunafish

it probably helps when the leadership don’t really care if their troops catch the plague and die, as long as they can keep on fighting….

fearlesstunafish

regarding erdogan, im amazed the us hasnt relocated their nuclear bombs already….

dan

Why is Turkey still in NATO? Putin is their new master.

Gareth

Also worth remembering Incirlik air base – just a short flight from the Syrian border, also within easy reach of most of the Eastern Med, and currently a store for some 50 US nuclear weapons as part of the NATO agreement. I can imagine behind closed doors discussions have been had already about relocating them out of Turkey.

The Big Man

Maybe I am being very naive, but did Turkey start to be more friendly with Russia after they shot down one of their fighters in 2015? Better chum up than fall out when the stakes are so high.