It’s hard to envision Russian-Turkish relations returning to normal, or ever again, after the downing of a Russian bomber last month.
The war of words between the two countries continues
It would be easy to call the war of words between Russia and Turkey a “he said, she said” affair if the potential for another incident causing a world crisis wasn’t such a distinct possibility. Turkey, as a NATO country, would, by treaty, expect that NATO forces would come to its aid in the event of any Russian attack. While that’s highly unlikely, so was the annexation of the Crimea in many experts eyes not so very long ago.
Thankfully, at least for now, that has happened but Russia shows no sign of admitting any culpability for the incident which saw Turkey shoot down a Su-24 bomber on Nov. 24th. One of the pilots was killed as he parachuted to the ground while a Russian marine was also killed during the rescue operation launched to save the other pilot.
Since the incident, Russia has imposed a number of sanctions against Turkey including banning the importation of many Turkish agricultural products as well as the suspension of visa-free travel between the two nations in the hopes of significantly harming Turkey’s tourism industry. Over three million Russian’s visited Turkey in just 2014 alone.
Perhaps at it’s most absurd moment, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Turkey of purposefully shooting down its plane to continue its illegal trade of oil with ISIS going so far as to name Turkish President Erdogan’s son the biggest perpetrator.
Today’s demands for compensation and the Turkish “threat”
Earlier today Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov told state news agency RIA Novosti that Russia still expects Ankara to apologize for the shoot-down, pay compensation to both Russian and the families of those killed, and make it unequivocally clear that it will never happen again, something that Turkey is unwilling to do.
In response to Meshkov’s demands, A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson essentially told Moscow not to holds its breath. They did however offer a left-handed guarantee to the Deputy Foreign Minister.
“If (Russia) guarantees that there won’t be a violation of Turkish airspace, a similar incident won’t happen again,” Tanju Bilgic said.
Not leaving well enough alone, Meshkov went so far as to call Turkey a threat saying, “As things stand now, the line that the current Turkish leadership has adopted – both in terms of its complete unwillingness to acknowledge its responsibility for the unprovoked attack on the Russian Su-24, and in terms of getting rid of double standards in the fight against international terrorism – does not allow [us] to make positive forecasts … Moscow believes that Turkish actions pose a “real threat” to Russia’s security and the security of its citizens.”
Turkey continues to maintain that the Su-24 was shot down in Turkish airspace while Russia promises that when it delivers the “black box” to independent investigators it is sure that the evidence will show that its plane was brought down in Syrian airspace.
The United States has joined Turkey in stating that it believes that, indeed, the bomber was in Turkish airspace and its NATO ally had every right to shoot down the airplane. That’s not to say that a number of Pentagon officials aren’t pulling out their hair wondering what the hell Turkey was thinking.
With the amount of weaponry on the ground and in the skies in and around Syria, the possibility of another incident is high and could light the fuse on a situation that no one is interested in seeing.
What will Russia do if Turkey doesn’t change it’s position?
Unfortunately, President Putin seems wholly unwilling to let the incident go unpunished. Fortunately, a direct attack on Turkey is unlikely given its membership in NATO. But, that doesn’t mean that Putin and the Russian military won’t attack Turkey’s interests in the region.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, all but lied through her teeth when speaking to TASS on Wednesday saying that Russia “has changed neither before nor during or after the incident with the Russian bomber. Our position on all issues has been consistent.”
While that’s lovely to hear, it’s hardly convincing given that fact that following the incident President Putin had some choice words.
“They’ll regret it,” Putin promised. “We know what to do.”
Russia is already doing it. Since the downing of its plane Russia has intensified its airstrikes near the Turkish border striking Turkmen forces opposed to the Assad regime. Russia has also focused on the narrow Azaz corridor which is Turkey’s only true entry point into Syria.
Russia can, and likely has already begun aiding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as it did in the Cold War, a Marxist-rebel group that Erdogan may fear more that ISIS.