After Turkey shot down a Russian plane that it says violated its airspace, Finland is the latest country to report incursions from Russian aircraft.
According to Finnish officials an unidentified helicopter flew over the Russian border and entered Finnish airspace for 6 minutes. After flying 6 miles into Finnish territory the aircraft finally returned to Russia following two warnings from the Finnish air force.
Finland points to regular Russian incursions in its airspace
Privately owned Russian news site Pravda.Ru reported that Finnish officials were not immediately sure which country the helicopter belonged to, but it came over the border with Russia near the island of Haapsaari in eastern Finland. The incursion is the latest in a series of incidents that have occurred on the Finland-Russia border.
In 2014 Finland accused Russia of illegally entering its airspace five times. Reuters reports that three of those incidents took place in just 7 days, sparking the scrambling of Finnish fighter jets.
“We will express the fact that from our perspective, this is totally unacceptable,” minister Carl Haglund said according to the online edition of newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. No comment was forthcoming from the Russian defense ministry.
Turkey shoots down Russian plane near Syrian border
This latest incident in Finland occurred just one day after Georgia accused a Russian military helicopter of breaching its skies, and a few weeks after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in its airspace. The continued breaches of airspace have proven to be a cause of tension between Russia and its neighbors.
Turkey apparently decided that it could no longer accept airspace violations, shooting down an Su-25 fighter jet in Turkish airspace near the Syrian border. Turkey said that the plane, which had been bombing Syrian rebels, ignored repeated warnings to return to Syria.
Georgian Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli supported the action taken by Turkey, telling the state-run Anadolu Agency that a sovereign nation is within its right to respond to airspace violations. He accused Russia of deliberately violating NATO and EU airspace on multiple occasions in the past few months.
Russia treading a fine line breaking international norms
Russian President Vladimir Putin has maintained that the Russian plane was flying within Syrian airspace when it was shot down without warning by Turkish jets, and threatened “serious consequences” for relations between the two nations. Russia has been carrying out airstrikes in Syria aimed at weakening groups including Islamic State.
“This event is beyond the normal framework of fighting against terrorism. Of course our military is doing heroic work against terrorism. … But the loss today is a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists. I can’t describe it in any other way,” Putin said, according to the Guardian. “Neither our pilots nor our jet threatened the territory of Turkey. This is obvious.”
A U.S.-led coalition is also bombing targets in Syria, but officials have accused Russia of concentrating its efforts on moderate groups hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad instead of concentrating on Islamic State. Al-Assad is a long-term Moscow ally and the Kremlin wants him to remain in power.
Proposed NATO-Russia alliance against ISIS should be questioned
Despite the fact that the U.S. wants to see al-Assad deposed, there is talk of implementing an alliance against Islamic State. The question for the U.S. and its allies is whether a country that engages in regular airspace violations and other provocative actions can be trusted as a partner in a formal alliance.
In the short term it would appear wise to coordinate attacks on Islamic State targets in Syria, but the idea of a formal alliance is very different. Russia has not been shy about its ultimate aims in Syria, namely preserving the rule of al-Assad.
Given the fact that the U.S. and its allies are working towards the opposite conclusion, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which there would eventually be a conflict of interest in the alliance. In addition the unpredictable behavior of Putin and Russia means that an alliance may only serve to draw Western politicians into a complicated situation.
Putin has consistently exhibited his lack of respect for international norms of behavior, and it seems unlikely that it will change. According to reports Russian airstrikes have targeted Syrian army forces, and Putin is a ruthless operator that will stop at nothing to regain Russia’s status as an international power.
After a careful analysis of Putin’s record it seems unlikely that these airspace violations and other provocations will end anytime soon. NATO leaders should be wary of entering into any kind of agreement with a man who has regularly expressed a desire to destroy the existing international order.