Every now and then I wonder what I am going to write about in my daily blog, will I run out of topics and then eventually dry up? But, then reality comes along and gives me a new spurt of interest. Such an intervention of reality is the downing of a Russian war plane by Turkey. Everyone had been worried about the close proximity of so many air forces flying around in Syria, but most people were focused on US-Russian and even Israeli-Russian clashes. The Turkish downing of a Russian jet is one of those accidents of history that could have unexpected consequences.
First, let it be noted that there has always been a historic enmity between Turkey and Russia, as far back as the Ottoman and Czarist Empires. This was even increased during the Cold War, when Turkey joined NATO and was a great enemy of the Soviet Union. Now Pres. Putin has called this Turkish action “a stab in the back,” because nominally both Russia and Turkey are on the same side in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). But, that is only superficial. In fact it could be said that Turkey has been aiding the IS, allowing its supporters to transit Turkey and join IS in Syria, and that the Erdogan Government is sympathetic towards the Islamist extremism of IS. But, this was before there were several bombing attacks in Turkey that were attributed to IS and Erdogan was forced to show his opposition to them.
However, Russian aims in Syria are far different from the Turkish and generally the Western aims. Russia’s primary aim is to retain its port facilities in Latakia and its adjacent air field, and to do this it wants to retain Pres. Assad in power in Syria, while the Allies’ objectives are to remove Pres. Assad and also to stop the spread of IS. So while Turkey and the West are anti-Assad and are focused on attacking IS, Russia is pro-Assad and focused on hitting all opponents of his regime, including all moderate pro-Western so-called democratic opposition as well as IS. Recently the downing of the Russian civilian air liner in Sinai by an IS bomb has caused Russia to veer more towards attacking IS. However, Turkey also has special aims in Syria, first among them is to try to prevent Kurdish forces, the Pesh Merga and the PKK, from making advances. In addition they seek to support their own friendly minorities in Syria, particularly the Turkmen, who are ethnically the same as the Turks.
Now Turkey claims that Russian aircraft have been hitting Turkmen forces that are opposed to Pres. Assad, and that in this case the Russian airplane crossed over into Turkish territory. The Russians dispute this. So there is a difference of opinion over the fact of where the aircraft was when it was downed. The Turks say they warned the Russian pilot several times. Now we shall see competing versions portrayed in the media, and perhaps the US or other Western version will be considered a neutral opinion. However, this could go either way, Russia and Turkey in the form of Putin and Erdogan could somehow patch up this unfortunate incident. Or more likely it could escalate with breaking of diplomatic relations and possibly Russia downing a Turkish plane deliberately by accident. We shall see, this could lead to WWIII, but little that is good can come from this incident.