Chinese experts on the role of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in the Syrian conflict


The intervention of one state in the affairs of another sovereign state is a fairly typical phenomenon in world politics, due, as a rule, to economic reasons and personal interests of the elite, on the one hand, and weakening of positions, on the other. The intervention of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the internal armed conflict in Syria was due to a set of existing foreign policy conditions and objectives. Among the former, we note the weakening of Iran’s influence on the situation in the region due to the many years of sanctions imposed by Western countries. In the list of foreign policy tasks, obviously, a need to prevent the growth of Russian influence in the region by closing the logistics support point in the city of Tartus and creating a controlled hotbed of tension. Undoubtedly, economic reasons are also significant, including the need to create a corridor for transporting oil and gas to Turkey and further to Europe.

To achieve their goals, official Riyadh and Doha focused their efforts on financing and assisting militants in the following forms:

— training and transportation;
— health care;
— the provision of weapons and intelligence data.

A special form of assistance is the media coverage of militants on the positive side and, on the contrary, the demonstration of the negative aspects of the Syrian government’s activities.

According to experts of the Academy of Military Sciences of the People’s Republic of China, the military-political leadership of KSA intends to use any opportunity to introduce into Syria the units of the ground forces under the guise of the slogan of “fighting terrorism”. Such calls about the need for the participation of the Gulf countries in the ground operation to destroy the Islamists on the territory of the SAR only in 2016 sounded from Riyadh twice.

In confirmation of the seriousness of their intentions, the KSA military-political leadership in February 2016 organized a large-scale international command and staff exercises «Northern Thunder» using the military equipment at one of the northern training grounds near the border with Jordan. It should be noted that Riyadh offered its allies to share the “burden of struggle” with official Damascus and jointly launch air strikes against the positions of the SAR forces in the areas bordering Jordan. According to Chinese experts, between December 2015 and January 2016, about 3,000 Islamists from the ISIS and «Jabhat al-Nusra» detachments hid in Jordan, who decided to wait out the massive strikes of Russian bombers.

It should be noted that casualties in the personnel of the «Jabhat Fath al-Sham» group (under the direct control of the KSA special services, formerly known as «Jabhat al-Nusra», banned in the Russian Federation) and the loss of advantage in key regions of the SAR after the start of the actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces «secured» the agreement of Riyadh and Washington on its priority supply with arms and ammunition. According to PRC media reports, the Saudis ensured the replenishment of the casualties of the group in manpower at the expense of convicts serving prison sentences in correctional facilities of the KSA, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other Gulf states. It is known that in an interview with Chinese television channels, one of the advisers to the King of Saudi Arabia announced the determination of official Riyadh to continue supporting anti-government forces in the SAR, since without such a defeat «Jabhat Fath al-Sham» is a matter of two weeks.

Chinese experts believe that Riyadh intends to «redraw» those Muslim countries where the majority (or a significant part of the population) are Shiites, namely Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria, as this represents a threat to the Saudi monopoly in the Middle East. According to the professors of the Xian Political Institute of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the KSA leadership will continue to attempt to overthrow the regime of the SAR President B. Assad.

Special attention is paid by Chinese experts to the actions of the Turkish authorities, who clearly demonstrated (practically until 2016) their interest in overthrowing the B. Assad regime. Among the reasons for this policy is the desire to destroy Syria as a sovereign state and, as a result, to get free access to oil and gas resources. It is known that it was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who through kinship contributed to the organization of illegal transit of Syrian oil. According to Chinese experts, the ISIS produced daily at two «Al-Tank» and «Al-Omar» oil fields alone (there were about 10 oilfields total at the disposal of ISIS) from 20 to 40 thousand barrels per day, i.e. at a cost of $ 10 per barrel, terrorists earn between $ 200 and $ 400 thousand, and Turkish businessmen earned a real “margin” two-three times more even at a time when the average world price of oil was $ 39 per barrel. According to the Chinese media, the salary of an ordinary ISIS fighter is $ 400, and to maintain 30,000 fighters (the minimum effective number) you need only steady operation of two oil fields for one week per month. Obviously, the Turkish side, with the lowest supply of Syrian oil, earns hundreds of millions of US dollars annually. Chinese experts point out that it was Russia who dared to be the first to point out the direct connection of the top leadership of Turkey with the militants of the ISIS and other groups.

According to the available information, NATO member countries have been using the port of the City of Iskanderun (Hatay Province, Turkey) since 2011 for the secret transfer of weapons and military equipment from the looted warehouses of the Libyan Armed Forces to fighting Syria. At military bases in the area of this city, British and French military instructors trained future fighters of anti-government forces, while the CIA and the US Special Operations Forces Command (SOF) provided communication systems and also supplied future militants with intelligence data.

Also, Chinese experts note that the training of the Syrian anti-government units and regular units of the Turkish Armed Forces were conducted simultaneously, which ensures an adequate level of understanding between the field commanders in Syria and the Turkish military. In addition, official Ankara organized a training center in the area of ​​the city of Adana (the military base «Adana» is also used to transfer weapons to Syria), which is located 130 km from the border with Syria, and in Istanbul there is a center for the distribution of illegal arms supplies, communication systems and other military equipment for the ISIS militants.

Chinese military observers note that aid to militants, funded by EU countries, is delivered through the territory of the Republic of Turkey and it is this country that plays a key role in the transit of weapons from KSA and the UAE. Through the areas occupied by units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Turkey, ammunition for mortars of 81 mm caliber is regularly delivered, as well as additional shots for anti-tank missile systems (ATMS) Tow. According to the PRC media version, in October 2015, the KSA Armed Forces dispatched about 500 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) for this complex. It should be noted that in 2015, the KSA paid the USA for the supply of about 200 ATGM Tow-2 ($ 10 million) for the needs of the Lebanese Armed Forces, as well as purchased an unknown amount of anti-tank weapons in France totaling more than $ 3 billion.

According to Chinese military analysts, over the past two years, from 60 to 80 thousand shots to the American-made ATGM have been transferred to the Islamists. The bulk are the BGM-71D and BGM-71F Tow-2B. The popularity of American ATGM among militants is due to the following: low weight (compared to Chinese «Hongjian-8» or «Hellfire») and the possibility of hitting a target with a thickness of homogeneous armor up to 1200 mm.

It should be noted that the supply of these ATGM in most cases was carried out by the aircraft of the American military transport aviation to Turkey, and then transferred in large quantities (up to 50 tons at a time) through the northern corridors connecting Syria and Turkey. The organization and intensity of ATGM supplies from the United States suggests that official Washington made a major bet on the ISIS and «Jabhat al-Nusra» as part of its Middle Eastern game. According to the information of Chinese specialists, C-17 BTA airplanes of the Qatar Air Force were involved in the transportation of anti-tank guided missiles to Syria.

It should be noted that the official Ankara is making significant efforts to curb the SAR offensive in the border areas: the methods are — regular deliveries of weapons, ammunition, medicines to the troops of the Turkomans and Islamists; evacuation of wounded to the territory of Turkey. In addition, at the start of Operation «Euphrates Shield» of the Turkish Armed Forces, terrorist groups in the province of Idlib, who receive weapons from the territory of Turkey through border checkpoints, have intensified in the direction of Jarablus.

According to the staff of the Institute of Contemporary International Relations of PRC, in the situation around Aleppo, the role of official Ankara was quite large, since in the key northern Syrian city there were several hundred «volunteers» from the military of special forces of the Turkish Armed Forces.

Chinese experts note that the military-political leadership of Turkey did not expect Moscow to intervene in the Syrian conflict, which was supposed to end in favor of the Republic of Turkey and KSA by 2016. In fact, the intervention of a third party (Russia) “confused the cards” of R.T. Erdogan and caused serious damage to the Turkish economy, which has successfully developed through strong trade and economic ties with its northern neighbor. The presence of the Russian military on the territory of Syria seriously complicated the activities of military advisers from Turkey, who until 2015 had successfully carried out offensive operations against government forces.

Military analysts of the PRC note that the most serious obstacle to the actions of KSA and TR aviation is the presence of Russian anti-aircraft missile systems deployed at the Khmeymim airbase, which are working steadily in conditions of active radio-electronic suppression from the territory of neighboring Turkey and allow one to close a significant part of the airspace of the SAR.

Let’s note that after the well-known strike on the Russian Su-24 aircraft (November 24, 2015), a period of tension in Russian-Turkish relations began (mutual sanctions were imposed). The destruction of the Russian bomber by Turkish fighters was the “highest form of protection” of Turkish assets in the Syrian conflict. Probably, the Turkish special services, in coordination with their colleagues from NATO, planned to capture Russian pilots, but Islamists supported by official Ankara failed to carry out the ground part of the operation. The Chinese media gave the following assessment of the actions of Turkish President R.Т. Erdogan: this is not just the “stab in the back” of official Moscow, this behavior is reminiscent of the actions of a poisonous reptile, which attacks from ambush, and then retreats awaiting results.

In an interview with journalists, one of the leaders of the Turkish radical group «Gray Wolves» openly declared his key role in the murder of a Russian military pilot. It should be noted that activists of this particular organization took an active part in the pogroms of Chinese restaurants and shops and demonstrations in 2015, accompanied by attacks on Chinese tourists and the burning of the flag of the PRC in front of the Chinese Embassy in Turkey. In addition, according to the information of the special services of the Kingdom of Thailand, the members of this particular group organized the terrorist act in Bangkok, and the target of this criminal act were to be Chinese tourists.

According to Chinese analysts, the role of official Ankara in the formation of the ISIS is not in doubt, this is indicated by statements by Turkish Foreign Minister A. Davutoğlu made in 2014 in connection with the detention in Thailand of 400 Chinese Uygurs, which he called illegal. It is reliably known that the staff of the Turkish Embassy in this southeastern country issued passports and tickets to Istanbul to those who wanted to go to Syria to fight against the “infidel”.

According to the chairman of the Council on the informatization of the Naval Forces of the PLA, Rear Admiral Yin Cho, Turkey’s actions are staged provocation planned in Washington and Brussels, but NATO has not fully calculated the reaction of the President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin on the traitorous actions [of Turkey]. According to the Chinese specialist, the Turkish military did not expect such rapid deployment of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, an additional sobering factor for official Ankara was the deployment of air-to-air missiles on Su-34 fighter-bombers.

In this situation, Ankara has begun an active search for new partners in the fight against Russia. Noteworthy is the fact of combining the efforts of Turkish and Ukrainian defense industry companies engaged in the development of armored vehicles. Turkish designers, as indicated in Chinese sources, invited Ukrainian specialists to develop the AKKOR active protection system for the new Turkish tank «Altay». The main problem of this system is the low efficiency of the radar station for detecting missiles.

According to Chinese experts, Turkish President R.Т. Erdogan is strongly dependent on US funding, which comes in exchange for providing assistance to the militants. American diplomats with sufficiently substantial sums of money were able to convince R.T. Erdogan to launch Operation «Euphrates Shield», since the US armed forces did not have a clear reason for armed intervention.

The Turkish authorities have repeatedly stated that they are aiming at the destruction of the troops and the infrastructure of the ISIS. In fact, the Operation “Euphrates Shield” had two main objectives: creating a “buffer” of security in the border area, as well as preventing the formation of Kurdish autonomy in Syrian territory, since the Kurdish detachments together with the Syrian units and with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces began to drastically reduce “living space” of Islamists in northern Syria. According to experts of the Academy of Social Sciences of China, the goal of the Turkish leadership is to support the civil war in Syria between official Damascus, Islamists and Kurds, which should lead to their mutual destruction. Turkey under the slogan of combating international terrorism has seriously damaged Kurdish groups in the territory of a neighboring state and indefinitely postponed the creation of Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria.

Preparations for Operation «Euphrates Shield» began after several high-profile terrorist attacks in southern and southeastern regions of Turkey, which, according to official Ankara, were organized by the militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

According to the Chinese military, the true «Turkish» plan of Operation «Euphrates Shield» was that the Turkish president sent units of the country’s armed forces to Syria, in which officers still serve, loyal to the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and therefore pose a threat to the rule of R.T. Erdogan.

According to Chinese media, the operation of the Turkish Armed Forces under the designation “Euphrates Shield” began on August 24, 2016 at 04:00 local time. The operation involved 380 military of the Turkish Armed Forces, 50 armored vehicles, about 20 F-16 fighters and self-propelled artillery. The support for armored and special units was provided by the aircraft of the US Air Force and other NATO member countries.

Representatives of official Tehran note that the invasion of the Turkish armed forces in August 2016 on the territory of a sovereign state is an act of aggression and official Ankara must withdraw its troops beyond the state border line. Iranian experts expressed the view that in addition to supporting the actions of the anti-government forces, the Turkish military was sent to the area to assist the American and British special forces that suffered losses during the operation of the SAR armed forces in Aleppo.

The operation “Euphrates Shield” was completed on March 29, 2017. Ankara announced the successful completion of its tasks, which, however, Chinese experts doubt. The most obvious result of this event for the Turkish Armed Forces was the loss in armored vehicles and self-propelled artillery installations as a result of ignorant actions of command and control officers and crews of armored vehicles, poor engineering preparing of artillery positions.

It should be noted that in mid-2017, the military-political leadership of Turkey once again returned to the idea of the need to create a zone of control in northern Syria by introducing a stronger contingent of the armed forces, however, in the area of the Syrian city of Manbij, there are SOF of the US Armed Forces that «take care of» Kurdish detachments and by their presence provide protection from attacks from Turkey.

According to Chinese political scientists, the president of TR, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will remain faithful to his goals and beliefs, the essence of which is in the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power and the seizure of part of the territory of the SAR. Chinese military observers note that official Ankara is seriously moving towards the revival of the “Great Ottoman Empire” and the main element of this movement is to modernize and strengthen the country’s armed forces. The Turkish military do not dare to repeat the military operation, similar to the “Euphrates Shield”, because they realize that they do not have technical superiority over the Syrian Kurds, who have mastered the new techniques of the partisan war during the years of conflict in Syria. The analysis shows the following most problematic points of the ground forces of the Turkish Armed Forces:

— outdated battle tanks;
— insufficient level of armor protection of wheeled and tracked vehicles;
— poor-quality engineering preparing of positions;
— insufficient number of mobile systems of electronic warfare and electronic reconnaissance;
— poor quality reconnaissance of traffic routes;
— negligence in organizing patrols of highways.

The first four problem points are due to the insufficient level of development of the military-industrial complex (MIC) of Turkey, namely, the low rates of implementation of the import substitution program, which is calculated until 2033. While Turkey is a member of NATO, its MIC enterprises do not have access to modern developments of the companies of countries of the alliance. The last two of these problem points are directly related to the low qualifications of the planning and management link officers. It is obvious that the indecision of the Turkish command negatively affects the morale of servicemen who are not eager to die in the territory of the neighboring state.

We emphasize that R.T. Erdogan however managed to restore relations with the President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin in November 2016. Obviously, it took the head of the Republic of Turkey almost a year to realize all the economic damage caused to his state by the downed Russian plane and the dead pilot. In addition, over the months that have passed since the destruction of the Russian aircraft, the Turkish military were convinced that the Russian air defense equipment was beyond control of electronic warfare systems deployed on the border with Syria. By November 2016 R.T. Erdogan realized that on the “economic front” some strategic economic projects are completely dependent on the goodwill of Moscow, and on the “military front” the military loyal to him suffers constant defeat from concerted actions of the Syrian and Russian military.

Chinese analysts emphasize that the head of the Turkish state resorts to negotiations only if his opponent is stronger than him in all senses. According to Chinese observers, R.T. Erdogan had to prove to the Turkish political establishment and the people his contractual capacity in the “Russian question”.

The Kurdish problem of Turkey, which R.T. Erdogan intends to solve solely by force, did not hide from the gaze of Chinese observers, but in fact this means the extermination of the Kurdish population. This is confirmed by the actions of the Turkish authorities to recognize the Kurdish political organizations as terrorist and declare their leaders on the wanted list.

In this situation, the Turkish Kurds have two options — to intensify partisan actions on the territory of the TR or cross the border and settle in the deployment areas of the US Armed Forces, which until a certain moment will “cover” them, but if the Syrian military, in cooperation with Iranian allies, will “encircle” the US military, the Pentagon will throw the Kurds to their fate, as has happened before.

Chinese experts note that the states that sponsor Islamist groups (Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) impose different requirements on their “wards”, which to a certain extent reduces the level of coordination of their actions “on the ground”.

Institute of the Middle East

M.V. Kazanin «Syrian Conflict: Estimates of Chinese Specialists» (M. 276 p., 2017)




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