Global Independent Analytics
Joshua Tartakovsky
Joshua Tartakovsky

Location: USA

Specialization: Israel and the Middle East, US politics

Russia Should Not Lose its Cool, as Turkey’s Action was Desperation, Not Strength

In many ways, the Russians are more angered by the shooting down of the Russian military jet by Turkey than the bombing of the Russian civilian plane in Sinai by Da’esh.

After all, Russians did not expect ISIL to like them, but they did expect fair behavior from Turkey. Russia generally regarded Turkey as a respectable partner, even when it strongly disagreed with its policies of openly support ISIL and buying its oil. Erdogan’s shooting down of a plane flying over Syrian skies has significantly angered Russia. Turkey argued it warned the jet in advance, 10 times in 5 minuets supposedly.  But if the plane flew over Turkish airspace, it did so for seventeen seconds. The surviving pilot denied receiving any warnings.  How did Turkey know in advance that the plane would enter its air space, therefore inevitably issuing warning minutes in advance, when the plane supposedly violated Turkish airspace for seconds? If a warning had indeed been issued, it is likely that the pilots would have known better and would have left at once, since Russia does not want a confrontation with Turkey to begin with but is focused on fighting Western-backed takfiris threatening a secular Syria. Even if Russia violated for several seconds Turkish airspace, Turkey has been violating Greece’s airspace many times. Considering the fact that Turkey has been also violating Syrian sovereignty by supporting ISIL in Syria via its supply lines, it is difficult to take seriously its claim that it shot down the plane following its entry into its airspace and the authenticity of the supposed audio tape of prior warnings.

Turkey must have operated with NATO’s knowledge, since the United States and NATO backed it immediately. For uninformed viewers, Turkey is the victim of Russia’s incursions, but if even that is the case, which it seems not to be, one must argue if the Syrian people are not victims of Turkish support for ISIL?

Russians angered by what Putin termed “a stab in the back,” have responded by imposing boycotts on Turkish agricultural products, and will probably boycott Turkey as a tourism destination, dealing a significant blow to its economy. Russia has now placed the S-400’s in Syria, which will make a bombing campaign by NATO against Assad nearly impossible, although Western and Gulf states are likely to intensify their support for takfiri rebels which could in the future even involve troops on the ground, fragmenting the state in the process. Russia also placed a warship by the Syrian coast. 

But Russia would be wise to hit threats on its forces in advance while not falling into a hot war with Turkey inside Turkish borders. Russia does not need a major war now with Turkey, which is precisely what NATO and the US are hoping for. One can understand why Russians are angry now. They were humiliated by a partner and are barred from fully responding. But truth be told, Russia’s partnership with Turkey was sketchy from the beginning. Russians believed Turkey would be a mature partner. In the Russian mentality, a word of honor is utmost importance. But what they failed to realize is that Turkey is in a deep psychosis. It sees itself as a new Ottoman empire, it supports the Islamic State, and it is humiliated by Russia’s successful bombing campaign in Syria that is putting its efforts to a naught.  Turkey’s act was an act of desperation, taken by a weak power that seeks to show it is still in control, even though by betraying its partner it proved itself to be an unreliable backstabber. It deserves pity, not anger. It is true that Russians were surprised by the action that caught them off-guard, but they should have seen it coming. After all, they cannot expect the same mode of honoring one’s word from a country whose leader supports ISIL, supports gangs of brutal murderers and butchers in Syria, and probably allowed, if not instructed, ISIS to blow up Kurdish protesters in Ankara while blaming the Kurds themselves. One who claims to fight ISIL while buying its oil cannot be taken too seriously.  Putin is pragmatic, but he cannot expect everyone else to conform to his mode of perfect pragmatism. Turkey is desperate for attention and respect, and is acting childishly attempting to rescue its wounded honor.  Russia should have realized Turkey is in a deep crisis of identity and acting whimsically, trying to project a power it does not have. It claims to be neo-Ottoman while it would not survive for too long without NATO.

Erdogan thrives from conflict, especially one that would carry religious tones. Putin need not fall into this trap.  Russia must stay focused on the end goal: restoring Syrian sovereignty to all parts of Syria and ensuring a secular and independent Syria.

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