Turkey shot down a Russian war plane on the Syrian border on Tuesday, sending tensions spiraling as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Ankara that this would have serious consequences. The Russian Foreign Minister also canceled a visit to Turkey that had been planned for Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country does not wish to escalate tensions with Russia, favoring peace, dialogue and diplomacy instead- something Russia does not seem to care about right now (and is probably just Turkish rhetoric, considering they downed a plane). He defended his country’s move saying “no one should expect Turkey to stay silent to border violations.”
These two countries and their respective allies have entered a war of words after the incident, raising tensions in a region struggling to cope with the ongoing Syrian conflict.
Many claim that Turkey shooting down a Russian plane should not come as much of a surprise, given the established pattern of repeated violations of NATO airspace by Russian military aircraft over the past 18 months. They have repeatedly violated Estonian airspace and since 2013 have also violated the airspace of NATO-partner nations Sweden and Finland. It was time for a take down so that the international world would get wind of Russian aggression.
Turkey, in the past few months, seems to have cornered itself with its policy about Syria pitting itself against Russian. Turkey is very vulnerable as it gets 61% of its gas from Russia (and Turkey is Russia second biggest non-domestic market for gas). Russia can cripple Turkey without firing a shot, and Putin is under increasing domestic pressure to turn off the taps.
For now it seems that NATO is behind their man Erdogan. Turkey called an emergency session in Brussels, where the country received strong support. NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg supported Turkey’s right to defend its territorial integrity as did Washington… to some extent. President Obama has urged Russia to become a full-fledged partner in the fight against ISIS, as if nothing much had happened. As usual, Obama’s strategy is to play ostrich and hope that the military confrontation between Turkey and Russia will go away on its own.
We have two sets of forces—NATO and its allies and Russia/Iran. They are both conducting air wars and both have different goals. Such a situation was bound to arise. The Kremlin must have realised this danger, but recklessly pursued its own political goals of saving a despotic client state. Putin is rightly described as a bully—and the standard procedure against bullies is to fight back. Turkey’s Erdogan has done just that. The question is if Turkey’s military allies will back him up or cave again? Regardless, this makes matters worse for Syria and Iraq.