Follow us on:   

Analysis: Putin rebukes Turkey’s ‘protection’ of terrorists
November 24, 2015, 7:36 pm

Putin's reaction to the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter jet came soon after his meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah to coordinate anti-ISIL efforts [Xinhua]

Putin’s reaction to the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter jet came soon after his meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah to coordinate anti-ISIL efforts [Xinhua]

“Our jet was shot down with an air-to-air missile fired by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet and crashed in Syrian territory four kilometers from the Turkish border,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

The Turkish Defense Ministry had earlier said that it had shot down a Russian SU-24 which had repeatedly penetrated its airspace.

But Putin would have none of it.

His first reaction appeared to be quite tough. He instead accused Turkey of protecting terrorists, and running to its NATO allies for discussion instead of setting up close ties with Russia to investigate the incident and to avoid them in the future.

“Our jet was attacked when it was at an altitude of 6,000 meters and 1 kilometer from the Turkish border,” he added.

Putin also highlighted that Russian jets were conducting air raids against terrorist targets in Northern Latakia, where militants predominantly from the Russian Federation are concentrated.

Perhaps symbolically, Putin made his first statements about the downed Russian fighter jet during a joint presser with Jordanian King Abdullah.

Diplomatically. it might signal that Jordan stands by Russia.

Amman and Moscow have already set up close coordination between their air forces to avoid any incidents in the skies over Syria.

Moreover, during the last Syria talks in Vienna it was decided to let Jordan head the process of drawing up a common list of terrorist groups who are operating in Syria.

Working with Europe

The downing of the Russian fighter jet comes ahead of French President Hollande’s diplomatic tour to bolster support for his country’s campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS).

Hollande met with the UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday and is today meeting with US President Barack Obama.

On Wednesday, he meets with German Chancellor Merkel before meeting with Putin on Thursday.

Hollande is undertaking this shuttle diplomacy in order to ultimately build an inclusive anti-terrorist coalition. However, today’s incident might affect the whole process of building the coalition.

“The president [Putin] clearly stated that this could not but affect Russian-Turkish relations. In this context, it was decided to cancel the meeting between Russia’s and Turkey’s ministers of foreign affairs, which was planned for tomorrow [November 25] in Istanbul,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists today.

Follow the oil trail

During the presser, Putin mentioned that Russia has for a long time been aware that huge amounts of oil are flowing to Turkey from ISIS-controlled territories; revenue from illicit oil sales has been providing terrorists with a significant source of money.

After it was confirmed last week that the crash of the Russian commercial Airbus A321 in Sinai was an act of terrorism, Moscow intensified it’s military campaign against Islamist extremist targets in Syria, concentrating among others on oil trucks, oil production and refinery infrastructure.

In one week, Russian airstrikes destroyed more than 1,000 oil trucks and reportedly sparked an economic crisis in ISIS-controlled territories.

Some analysts argue that Turkey decided to shoot down a Russian fighter jet only after airstrikes severely damaged ISIL’s storing, production and transportation capabilities.

Another reason for today’s escalation may have to do with Russia crossing a Turkish red line – not to bomb Syrian Turkoman militia who have strong ties with Ankara.

There might be many other reasons but the bottom line is that Turkey’s decision to shoot down a Russian warcraft quite clearly will lead to changes in Russia-Turkey relations. and the realization that Moscow’s air campaign in Syria is not cost-free anymore.

The mere fact that Russia suffered the first death of its pilot during the combat sortie casts a shadow on the previously smooth military campaign, which until now had not faced any major setbacks.

Military campaign to continue

This fighter jet is one of many SU-24s deployed at an air base in Latakia, Syria [Xinhua]

This fighter jet is one of many SU-24s deployed at an air base in Latakia, Syria [Xinhua]

What can be said for sure is that Russia will not halt its airstrikes against terrorist targets in Syria.

However, the Kremlin will be very cautious about its further combat sorties in Syria in proximity to the Turkish border.

As a response to today’s incident, the Russian Defense ministry will start to enhance the security of its forces in Syria:

  1. It announced that all combat sorties of Russian bombers will be accompanied by fighter jets.
  2. Russian air defenses in Syria will be enhanced with the missile cruiser Moskva stationed near the Latakia coastline. It’s air defense capabilities are equal to that of the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile system.
  3. Russia will also cut off military contacts with Turkey.

Moscow will also likely wait until Turkey makes a mistake and then punish it.

It might come in the form of the publication of proof that Turkey sponsors ISIL and the Jabhat an-Nusra militia, and provides assistance to jihadists flocking to Syria.

In the midst of this parlay, it is worth bearing in mind that Russia is Turkey’s largest gas supplier.

Some 20 per cent of Turkey’s total energy consumption comes from Russia; so it is one of the possible tools which can be used to influence Ankara’s policy.

Russia traditionally has good relations with the Kurds – one of the main headaches for Erdogan. This factor also can be utilized by Russia.

However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia-Turkey relations were distinct thanks to the pragmatism of Moscow and Ankara and their ability to separate politics from economic links.

Given their very close business, economic and tourist ties, the two countries are unlikely to sacrifice economic benefits they managed to achieve over the decades.

In Washington today, US President Barack Obama could not confirm whether the Russian plane was shot down in Turkish airspace when asked several times during the joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande.

So far it seems that neither the US nor NATO wants to rush to judgment.

It seems likely they decided to leave this incident just between Russia and Turkey and distance themselves from the fallout.

After NATO’s council meeting in Brussels earlier today its Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the organization is not in direct contact with Russia on the incident.

As a result, we should not expect any major escalation between Russia and Turkey (NATO) or long-term opened tensions between the two although they have now definitely entered a new stage of relations which will lack the usual degree of warmth.

But it is quite certain that on the diplomatic level all parties will try to use this incident in their favor.

By Alexey Khlebnikov for the BRICS Post in Moscow, Russia

Alexey Khlebnikov is a Middle East analyst and the Senior Editor at Russia Direct.
You can follow him on Twitter @alekskhlebnikov.