How Turkish downing of Russian jet fuels Middle East tensions

30 november 2015

Regardless of Russia's response to Turkey’s downing of the Russian bomber, it will not make the region or the world any safer.

Vladimir Avatkov is a Turkey scholar who teaches in the MGIMO Military Department and in the Middle and Near East Languages Department.

Resume: How Turkish downing of Russian jet fuels Middle East tensions

Days after Turkey brought down a Russian bomber, Russia revoked its visa-free regime with Turkey and signed a decree imposing immediate   economic sanctions against Ankara. In the meantime, the press is speculating whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to meet with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdo?an at the UN Climate Change Summit in Paris in order to address several pressing issues. 

Clearly, Turkey’s shooting down of the Russian Su-24 bomber over Syria on Nov. 24 has brought Russian-Turkish relations to its lowest point since the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s.

This recent incident, which led to the deaths of a Russian pilot and a marine, has caused irreparable damage to cooperation between the two countries. Turkey is now trapped because its actions could be used by its opponents and interpreted as providing support to the very terrorists that the Russian Air Force is fighting in Syria.

The course of action chosen by Turkey does not just hamper Russia-Turkey relations. It also undermines the newly emerging dialogue that seeks to bring Russia, the U.S. and the EU together to fight terrorism in the region.

Obviously, Turkey has its own grievances, including earlier violations of Turkish airspace; Russia’s bombing of ISIS oil sites, which according to some sources belong to circles close to the Turkish political establishment; and Russia hindering Turkey's ambitions to benefit from bringing order to neighboring countries such as Syria.

Recently, Ankara's list of reasons for confronting Russia has grown longer: The Russian Air Force is operating in Northern Syria, which is occupied by Syrian Turkmen and helps Kurds in their movement west. 

This maneuver could enable Kurdish anti-ISIS forces to surround the militants and prevent them from entering Turkey. Turkish authorities might have taken these factors into consideration when they made the decision to use force in order to show Russia its place. 

Lately, Russia and Turkey have worked hard on building a mutually beneficial partnership, but a number of issues remained unresolved.

First, cooperation should not have been limited to the economy. It should have encompassed geopolitics and security, the two areas that historically were particularly problematic for the two countries.

Second, it was a mistake to rely exclusively on leadership that can be easily replaced. Russia should have engaged all Turkish political forces.

Still, what is done is done. The past cannot be changed and everyone will have to cope with the current situation. We need to learn from our mistakes, abandon reactionism and adopt proactive policies.

Erdogan, who has been trying to maintain the balance between Russia and the West, has grown weak and most likely cannot contain the Turkish “hawks,” including Turkish Prime Minister and the current leader of the Justice and Development Party, Ahmet Davuto?lu, who propagates the idea of rebuilding the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Russia is a world power that has de facto suffered an act of aggression. Unfortunately, regardless of its response, the region and the world on the whole will likely not become any safer.

Russia Direct

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