In a very alarming and provocative move, Turkey has shot down a Russian war plane in Syria, in the north-west region near Latakia.
A Russian SU-24, flying 6000 meters in altitude, was struck down by a Turk F-16. One of the two pilots was announced dead, while the circumstances of the other is yet to be confirmed.
While NATO, the 28-state alliance which Turkey is a member of, and Russia have in the past threatened each others interests in the region, new boundaries seem to have been breached during the Syrian conflict – which is slowly being seen as more than just a Syrian civil war, and more of a potential proxy war between Russia and the West (inc. NATO).
Different reactions have been elicited from both Russia and Turkey. President Erdogan has given the impression that he felt his borders were being threatened. As the plane was flying in close proximity to the Turkish-Syrian, Turkey’s President Erdogan will no doubt claim he felt Russia threatened his boarders. Earlier today in fact, Erdogan was said to be very perturbed by the presence of Russian planes, since Putin didn’t notify him of the involvement in the region, when they last met in Moscow in September. The evident lack of communication and diplomacy clearly suggests this was seen as an unwarranted move. Are we hearing the correct narrative, however?
Russian president Vladimir Putin will no doubt take this harshly. His spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said it was a “very serious incident”. The Russian Defense Ministry also defended the actions of the plane, as it hadn’t even violated Turkey’s airspace. Conceivably, Russia will be stern on this – as it was a direct attack on their air force
The UK Foreign Office has taken it seriously, yet is seemingly ambiguous as it stands. “Clearly this is a very serious incident, but it would be unwise to comment further until we have more certainty on the facts.” the ministry said.
Craig Murray, a former British diplomat, and now an anti-war campaigner, was highly critical of Turkey’s actions. He wrote:“That Turkey shot down the plane for this is madness, and absolutely indefensible. It is fairly obvious from the track that the plane was operating against Turkish sponsored rebels inside Syria, and that is why the Turks shot it down.”
Yet are these the same “moderate rebels” which the US and NATO collectively keep arming and financing?
Considering that Russia has primarily focused its efforts on fighting ISIS since commencing intervention in the region, damaging much of the Islamist faction’s bases and oil fields, it is indeed curious that Turkey would prevent them from doing this.
Notably however, Turkey have been suspected to be aiding ISIS in the past, and helping them fight against the Kurdish forces – who are widely regarded to be the best solution to defending against ISIS Perhaps this could be part of a proxy war.
While Russia and US both claim to be fighting ISIS in the region, the clash itself appears to largely driven by a conflict of desires, centered around whether or not Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad stays in power. The Assad family has for long been a strategic ally of Russia, while the US’ initial intervention was driven by the desire to remove Assad from power. The division between the two sides is intensifying, so it seems, and indicates hostility on a grander scale between the West and Russia.
Other NATO members are likely clamoring to support Turkey. NATO has claimed in the following report that it will hold an urgent meeting later, in light of the situation: At the request of Turkey, the North Atlantic Council will hold an extraordinary meeting at 17.00 (Brussels time). The aim of this extraordinary NAC meeting is for Turkey to inform allies about the downing of a Russian airplane. NATO is monitoring the situation closely. We are in close contact with Turkish authorities.
If Turkey can make a case that its national security was threatened, they could go as far to invoke the NATO clause ‘an attack against one ally is an attack against all’. If the conflict is indeed torn between Western interests and Russian interests, then further boundaries could be breached, and hostilities could rise; gradually developing into a more chaotic situation. Diplomatic measures may patch things over, for now. In the long run however, if the West and Russia continue to have conflicting interests in the region, tensions will only arise further.