Geopolitics

Are U.S. Patriot Missiles Being Sent To Turkey-Syria Border Really Aimed At Iran?

Russia worries the Patriot missiles set to be deployed by the West to the Turkish-Syrian border could actually be moved to any part of Turkey.

Bashar al-Assad highway billboard in Syria
Bashar al-Assad highway billboard in Syria
Sergei Strokan and Yelena Chernenko

MOSCOW - Russia is categorically opposed to the Turkey’s installation of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles along its border with Syria. Most have assumed that the Moscow's opposition was driven by its friendship with embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But Russian military experts tell Kommersant that Moscow is actually concerned that the missiles will be used in military action against Iran. In spite of the fact that the planned location of the missiles is relatively far from the Iranian border, they could be easily deployed to any place in Turkey, and be used against Iranian rockets.

The experts Kommersant spoke with said that having the Patriot missiles in Turkey seriously increases the risk of armed conflict with Iran, which would not be able to strike back if the Patriot missiles are deployed.

Turkey has explained its request to NATO to put the Patriot missiles on its border with Syria as exclusively related to its need to defend itself from a possible attack from the Syrian army. But according to our information, there could be a second motivation for this actions, which is a preparation for military action against Iran,” said one diplomatic source in Moscow.

Russia has reacted extremely negatively to Turkey’s plans to install the Patriot missiles. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that this “increases the risk of military conflict,” and evoked Chekhov’s gun syndrome: if there is a gun on the stage in the first act, then it will be shot in the third act.

Western countries have reacted extremely skeptically to Russia’s concern. NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen called it “baseless,” and Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey’s self-defense plans was none of Russia’s business.

Mobility is key

During the December 4th and 5th meeting of the NATO countries’ foreign ministers, the Patriot missiles in Turkey were green-lighted. The official motivation listed by NATO was the need for Turkey to defend itself against a hypothetical chemical attack from Damascus. According to Kommersant’s sources, the Patriot’s deployment will take two to three weeks. (U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last Thursday that he had signed the order to deploy two batteries of the Patriots missiles and 400 U.S. military personnel to operate them)

According to the official version, the missiles will be deployed along the 900-kilometer border with Syria, in southern Turkey. The missiles have a range of 70 to 160 kilometers. If you consider the distance between the place of deployment and the Iranian border, Moscow’s worry can seem a bit far-fetched, until you consider that the batteries can be rather easily transported.

“These are mobile units, that can be moved to any point in Turkey if necessary. It’s only about 500 kilometers from where the units will be located to Tebriz in Iran, where some sources say there is a nuclear program,” explained Dimitri Polikanov, the vice president of the Pir-center. “Considering that the US wants to use Turkey as an advance missile shield, the Patriots might be there forever. Turkey wanted to modernize it’s weapons anyway and already started taking bids for similar weapons systems. Under these circumstances, the weapons are most likely directed against Iran."

The arrival of these weapons in Turkey, which will be maintained by American, German and Dutch specialists, is an aggressive act, said Polikanov. "Any careless acts by Iran could become a cause for war. And then, thanks to the anti-aircraft missiles, Iran will no longer be able to make a counter attack.” Several other experts agreed with this analysis.

Other experts were much more guarded in their analysis. Dimitri Trenin, Director of the Moscow Carnegie center, explained that the relationship between the missiles and Iran was much more complicated. He said that while it was true that the having the Patriot missiles in Turkey could be useful if there were a war with Iran, NATO’s current defense missiles throughout Europe were perfectly sufficient to deal with the current threat level from Iran. The reasons he thinks Turkey wants the missiles have everything to do with the war in Syria and the political situation in Turkey.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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