Turkey shoots down a Russian jet and we return to the 19th century

 

Su24shootdownIs the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 ‘Fencer’ bomber by a Turkish fighter – the first direct NATO vs Russia combat incident – a big deal or not? My first thoughts are that the answer is probably not, at least not in the long term, but we can expect a fair amount of overt sound and fury on the one hand, and probably some covert retribution from Moscow, too. WW3 is not, however, on the cards.

The Russians are saying it was on the Syrian side of the border, the Turks say the plane was on theirs. I have no idea at this stage which is true, although it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if the Russian jet had intruded. Putting aside the (remote) possibility of pilot error, Moscow has been willing to cross into NATO airspace in the past and may even had an operational reason for doing so, perhaps trying to set up an attack run on a rebel convoy or facility on the Turkish border. After all, let’s not forget that Ankara is playing an active role in the Syrian civil war, and in its eagerness to hammer Kurds, wherever they may be, arguably supporting some pretty toxic elements.

Moscow may well have been assuming the Turks would be as restrained as other NATO members, which was an undoubted mistake. Putting aside any cultural stereotypes, Ankara is not only embarked in a campaign to assert itself as a regional power, it also sees Moscow as a sometimes partner-of-convenience, but also local rival. Russian intelligence officers have assassinated Chechen fundraisers in Turkey, and generally the Kremlin has shown little signs of seeing in Ankara a serious ally, partner or player, even in the days when Putin and Erdogan were getting along. Only this Friday, Russia’s ambassador had been given a dressing down about the bombing of Turkish-backed rebels. It may well be that Ankara leapt at the opportunity to teach Russia a lesson and also show that it was a serious player.

Putin’s immediate response has been mordant and tough, accusing Turkey of stabbing Russia in the back, of in effect protecting ISIS, and running to its NATO powers as if it has been one of its own aircraft that had been shot down. We can expect some kind of retaliation on the political-economic front (maybe stopping Turkish airliners coming to Russian airports?) and maybe also some unloading of additional serious ordnance on Turkish-backed elements in Syria. However, I suspect neither Moscow nor, at the very least, the other European NATO powers will want to let this go too far. Russia cannot fight hot diplomatic wars on too many fronts, and Europe clearly wants Moscow to be part of the solution in Syria and maybe Ukraine, too. And, frankly, there is in many capitals concern about Turkey, its agenda and its role in the region. Much will depend on where Washington falls, of course, but if Moscow can get even a crumb of contrition from Ankara or sympathy from Europe, then we can expect this to be splashed on Russian TV and allow the Kremlin to let this slide a little.

But even in this best-case scenario, I don’t imagine that will be the end to it. Moscow has already been willing to operate inside Turkey covertly, and is engaged in political tussles over influence in the South Caucasus as well as Middle East. I would expect some uptick in ‘mischief’ – perhaps some support for the Kurds or other violent extreme movements, for example – as well as a more assiduous campaign to push back and stymie Turkish regional ambitions.

It’s often said, with good reason, that Putin really wants a return to 19th century geopolitics, when might made right and realpolitik was all. Let’s not forget that one of the defining 19th century conflicts was that between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, which were sometimes openly at war, sometimes ostensibly at peace, but never anything than enemies. Here we go again.

Leave a comment

28 Comments

  1. Russians` envoy to Paris has invited Turkey to join the coalition against daesh today. So, there´s some hope and i beliave, that relations between Russia and Turkey will turn back to normal after some time, because their bilateral trade are extensive and in terms of money quite valuable.
    Sorry for poor English, i´m not native English speaker…😀

    Marko

    Reply
  2. Mark – what’s going on at the Moscow Times? The OP-ED is almost shutdown. Thanks, Andy

    Reply
    • Mark Galeotti

       /  November 25, 2015

      Now that the print version of MT has gone weekly, I think the tempo of op.eds is changing to match

      Reply
  3. A forgotten incident that never made it into the mainstream press took place on October 6 and 7, 2015, lasting from 2-4 minutes — Turkish military helicopters violated Armenian airspace. Turks claimed it was due to bad weather. It was not bad weather but was a tit-for-tat reaction to their claim that Russian jets strayed into Turkish airspace days earlier. I guess Armenia is as close as Turkey gets to “Russian air space.” See RFE/RL report: http://www.azatutyun.am/content/article/27299112.html.

    Nobody cared last month about this violation and look at Turkish arrogance today!

    Yerevan, Armenia

    Reply
  4. Good point about the nineteenth-century aspect of this. But It is at least interesting to note that the situation between Russia and Turkey in Syria is analogous to Donbas, but this time with Turkey conducting the “hybrid war.” Turks support Turkmen rebels, just as Putin’s Russians supported his rebels. Poroshenko called his an “anti-terror operation,” while Putin calls his intervention by the same name. This may not be just great power rivalry. It may also mark an upsurge in wars over ethnicity.

    Reply
  1. Putin calls Turkey ‘accomplices of terrorists’ after Russian jet shot down – live updates | Education Redefined
  2. Well, as worst-case scenarios go… | and that's the way it was
  3. Turkey shoots down a Russian jet and we return to the 19th century | To Inform is to Influence
  4. Komt anti-IS-coalitie in gevaar na neerhalen Russisch toestel? | Koppen Krant
  5. Links -November 24, 2015 | Nuclear Diner
  6. Πόσο πιθανός είναι ένας Ρωσοτουρκικός, ή ίσως και Τρίτος Παγκόσμιος Πόλεμος; «Ζυγίζοντας» το θερμό επεισόδιο | Η Άλλη Άποψη
  7. Πόσο πιθανός είναι ένας Ρωσοτουρκικός, ή ίσως και Τρίτος Παγκόσμιος Πόλεμος; «Ζυγίζοντας» το θερμό επεισόδιο | Greek National Pride
  8. Ποια θα είναι τα ρωσικά αντίποινα μετά την κατάρριψη. Πούτιν: Δεν αποκλείονται άλλα περιστατικά - Newsmotion.gr
  9. Goldpimmel bestimmen das Weltgeschehen
  10. Clash of the Dickheads | Russia Without BS
  11. Engadget Today » What's next for Putin after Turkey shot down a Russian jet?
  12. What's next for Putin after Turkey shot down a Russian jet? | Tech Feed - CPN DEV
  13. What's next for Putin after Turkey shot down a Russian jet? - DailyScene.comDailyScene.com
  14. What’s next for Putin after Turkey shot down a Russian jet? – Dragon Insider
  15. What's next for Putin after Turkey shot down a Russian jet? - Hell on Heels
  16. What's next for Putin after Turkey shot down a Russian jet? - News
  17. What’s next for Putin after Turkey shot down a Russian jet? | iTruckTV
  18. Η κατάρριψη του ρωσικού μαχητικού, η Συρία, η Ρωσία, η Τουρκία και τα νέα δεδομένα στην περιοχή: 7 ερωτήσεις και απαντήσεις - Newsmotion.gr
  19. What's next for Putin after Turkey shot down a Russian jet? | App Showcase Wordpress Theme
  20. NATO Meets After Turkey Shoots Down Russian Warplane | Atlantic Sentinel
  21. It’s Definitely Maybe World War 3 | The Pandora Report
  22. Η κατάρριψη του ρωσικού μαχητικού, η Συρία, η Ρωσία, η Τουρκία και τα νέα δεδομένα στην περιοχή | Science Arena

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: