By Joshua Tartakovsky, November 25, 2015
Truth be told, ever since the Russian-Turkish agreement declared during the Putin-Erdogan meeting on the construction of the TurkStream, many wondered how long the relationship would last.
It seemed that it could. After all, Erdogan may have his conflicting interests with Putin in Syria, with the latter openly supporting the Islamic State and the former supporting the secular republic of Syria and President Bashar al Assad. Still, one could have engaged in a wishful thinking of sorts, that conflicting interests in one region need not negatively affect cooperation in another region.
However, the shooting down of the Russian military jet in Syrian skies by the Turkish army may complicate things.
Russia is unlikely to go to war with Turkey, at least not now. It knows better than to fall into provocations and responding to the shooting down of the jet will likely bring about the third world war, under NATO’s article 5. NATO has been actively preparing for a war against Russia quite openly recently.
But it is still in a difficult position. Since by not responding, it sends the message that it is a nation whose planes can be toppled without an appropriate response. American readers, long accustomed to the demonization of Russia by the US media, will not be too distraught by the occasional news headlines announcing that yet one more Russian plane has been downed. For some, Russians are less worthy of life and dignity than Europeans.
At the same time, Russia punishing Turkey by military means is too dangerous to consider.
Russia may therefore respond by announcing a boycott of Turkish goods as well as a boycott of country for tourism. Russians traditionally liked to have their vacations in Turkey. Israel carried out such a boycott following the Turkish flotilla incident, and it lasted for four years. Turkey still enjoyed tourism from other countries, but the boycott did have an impact.
But a boycott not likely to be an adequate response, and one may expect Russia to begin arming the Kurds. The problem is that in response Turkey may arm and train jihadists in the Northern Caucasus, to the south of Russia. But to do so, Turkey would need the active cooperation of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, who stand on the way. Turkey has been cultivating relationships with these three countries, according to a paper published in LSE Ideas by Dr. Kevrok Oskanian. The EU has also been interested in this region via for example, Project CASCADE.
Russia then would need to work on improved relations with Georgia and Armenia but even more so with Azerbaijan, which has generally been more susceptible to foreign pressures.
Another question that needs to be asked is whether Erdogan acted on his own or in unison with Washington.
Erdogan could have very well decided to pull a wild card, due to desperation over Russia’s current success in Syria. But the fact that the US did not bother to condemn the shooting down of the Russian jet, and said that Turkey has the right to “defend its territory,” means that Turkey enjoyed at least tacit support from the US, even if it was not explicitly asked to take this step. Obama has a tradition of inflaming regions via proxies and not directly. But at the minimum, Erdogan knew that he would receive US backing for such an action, even if only after the act.
It would be fair to expect that Putin will continue to keep his calm and not get carried away by provocations. The problem is that if current events continue, he will have to respond, at some point in the future. Then things will get really messy. In the mean time, he will probably concentrate on finishing the job in Syria.
Over the short run, we can expect the US to continue to work with Turkey to take provocative steps towards Russia, while the support of Turkey for the Islamic State becomes ever more transparent. In addition, the US will also probably give a green light to the Kiev regime to launch an onslaught on the independent republics of Lugansk and Donetsk in the not too distant future, hoping to hit Russia at its soft belly. The Ukrainian army has already been targeting civilians in Donbass on a regular basis, even after the Minsk II agreement, and if the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian neo-Nazi battalions invade Donbass, a very large massacre of civilians is likely to be the result.