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Suspicions About Russian Support of PKK Grow in Turkey

  • Dorian Jones

FILE - A Turkish military helicopter flies at low altitude along a mountain in Cukurca, near the Iraqi border in southeastern Turkey, where thousands of Turkish troops had launched a ground and air offensive against PKK fighters, Oct. 21, 2011.

FILE - A Turkish military helicopter flies at low altitude along a mountain in Cukurca, near the Iraqi border in southeastern Turkey, where thousands of Turkish troops had launched a ground and air offensive against PKK fighters, Oct. 21, 2011.

Ever since it was revealed that the Kurdish rebel group PKK used a Russian-made shoulder-launched missile to down a Turkish helicopter, Ankara has been eyeing Moscow suspiciously.

Defense analyst Metehan Demir said the sophisticated nature of the missile used suggested Moscow’s involvement.

"You have to train a normal soldier for weeks to use it," he said. "It is very sensitive. ... Under these circumstances, who trained the PKK terrorists? Who made them so professional to be able to hit a Turkish helicopter easily for the first time? This could be given by some Russian sources — maybe not officially by Russia, but this could be retaliation by Russia for the downing of the Russian jet."

Demir pointed out that the missile used appeared similar to one a Russian naval officer displayed recently on the deck of a warship passing through Istanbul on its way to Syria. The incident was widely interpreted by Ankara as an implicit threat occurring just weeks after Turkish jets shot down a Russian bomber operating from a Syrian air base.

Throughout the decades-long conflict between the PKK and Turkish state, Moscow has from time to time been accused by Ankara of supporting the rebels. But retired Turkish Brigadier General Haldun Solmazturk, who is chair of the Ankara-based political research organization 21st Century, is skeptical that Moscow would take such a step.

"I personally would not think the Russians would do such a mad thing," he said. "It would not serve their interests. It is possible to find Russian-made MANPAD [man-portable air defense system] missiles anywhere in the world, particularly in the Middle East. If it was supplied [directly] by Russia, then I would be very, very surprised.”

With relations remaining deeply strained between Ankara and Moscow, Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar of the Carnegie Institute, warned that Ankara was keeping an open mind about Moscow's involvement.

"No, they don't rule it out," Ulgen said. Ankara is investigating to try to find out how the PKK obtained such a weapon, he said, and a finding that Moscow was directly responsible would "eliminate whatever hope there is to find a way to mend the relationship."

Ankara is nervously waiting to see whether the Kurdish rebels have more MANPAD missiles and other new sophisticated weapons. Analysts warned that such weapons could be a game changer in the conflict with the rebels, especially if Moscow is connected to supplying them.

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