Tuesday’s downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish air force, in contested airspace, could spell big trouble for the U.S. and the rest of NATO.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama recently reached an agreement on developing framework to end the Syrian Civil War and combat Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. The two leaders discussed terms, during a short meeting at the G20 summit, hosted by Turkey on Nov. 15-16. However, this new development could potentially unravel the already-shaky relationship between Moscow and the West.
In response to what the Russian leader called “a stab in the back” by Turkey, Putin vigorously declared Turkish complicity with ISIS and promised that the country will face “severe consequences” for its actions. Putin made clear what those “consequences” will be by suspending all military cooperation with Ankara and deploying the guided missile cruiser, Moskva, off the Syrian coast, with orders to “destroy any (emphasis added) target that may pose danger.”
Russia also turned up the heat in the region by announcing that all operations will be carried out under the guise of fighter jets, according to RT News. The country also vowed to continue operations near the Turkish border. Meanwhile, one of Putin’s top generals, Sergey Rudskoy, blasted the attack, calling it “a severe violation of international law.”
Turkey maintains that the Su-24 fighter plane was inside Turkish airspace and received several warnings before being shot down. Russia asserts that the plane was 1km on the Syrian side of the border, however, a distance of 1km is an extremely short distance to cover in a supersonic warplane and perhaps, even close enough for a faulty radar reading. Turkey did issue warnings that it would engage any aircraft that entered its territory and even shot down a drone, prior to this incident.
To complicate matters, the U.S. deployed six F-16 fighters and 300 personnel to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, back in August, which were to be used to fight ISIS militants. However, no American jets were reportedly involved in downing the Russian aircraft, according to local media sources.
Russia has been conducting strikes against Turkmen forces—who are ethnic Turks—living in Syria. These forces are supported and funded by Turkey and also part of the rebel insurgence against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In another move underscoring Moscow’s change of heart toward cooperation, Russia officially declared that it and Iran will oppose any “external attempts” at removing Assad. The announcement effectively signaled Russia will continue strikes against all anti-Assad forces, including U.S.-backed rebels. This could lead to more confrontations between Russian and Turkish warplanes that might stray too close to one another.
The latest situation, once again, raises the specter of a clash between NATO forces and the Syrian alliance. Under the NATO charter, attacks against any member nation are considered attacks against all, requiring other members to aid the attacked nation.
Conversely, if Putin’s accusations of Turkey supporting ISIS are true, it could put NATO members—including the United States—in the awkward position of protecting the very group it set out to destroy, if Russia takes military action against Turkey. If Turkey really is helping ISIS, this means that it is protecting the militants’ passage into Syria as well as its illegal crude oil enterprise.
Did the Russian plane veer into Turkish airspace or was it destroyed for another reason? Was the warplane attacking an entry route into Syria being used by Turkish-supported, mercenary terrorists, when it was shot down?
And who are those mysterious 40 nations, revealed to Putin by Russian intelligence. It is likely a safe wager that Turkey will be on that list. Finally, will Turkey’s attack prompt Putin to publicly expose the other countries to the media? It would probably be interesting to see which ones turn up on the list.