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The motive: How Russia's enemies benefit from the downing of Su-24

November 24, 2015


Yegor Kholmogorov 

Turkey hid under the NATO umbrella

Yegor KholmogotovThe downing of the Russian bomber in the skies over Syria and the subsequent accusation that our air-space forces had violated Turkish airspace brought the world on a brink of a great war unseen since the time of the Cuban missile crisis.

There is nothing surprising, although for the last two years, Moscow and Ankara have consistently demonstrated friendliness to each other. But it was the friendliness of the opponents objectively doomed to the deadly enmity, who, however, considered quarreling extremely unprofitable.

Historically, Turkey owns "the keys of our house," as the Straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles were called in the XIX century by the first Russian geopoliticians. Only with great difficulty in the XVII-XIX centuries Russia has managed to squeeze Turkey from Northern Black Sea coast, Novorossia and Crimea.

By an amazing coincidence the provocation occurred on the birthday of Alexander Suvorov. However, all attempts of the Russian Empire to gain control over the straits and over the ancient Byzantine capital Constantinople met with united resistance of the European powers led by Britain, supporting Turkey. The latest attempt to control the straits by Russia was carried out by Stalin, a response to which was the withdrawal of Turkey under the NATO umbrella.

By controlling the straits Turkey controls most of the supply of our military group in Syria. Montreux Convention makes the peacetime regime of the straits free for all the Black Sea countries, but in time of war Turkey gets the legal right to block the straits to the enemies and open them to the allies.

Turkey allies are NATO countries, and the enemy, judging by the downed aircraft, may be Russia. That is, a provocation with the Su-24 puts supply of our troops in Syria under jeopardy. The only other routs left - much more uncomfortable through Iran and potentially problematic through Iraq, where the United States have a big influence.

The second factor in the tension between Russia and Turkey is Crimea. The Ottoman Empire conquered Crimea in XV century, and Turkish neo-ottomans(and president Erdogan among them) continue to believe that they have all the rights to Crimea. And they consider the Crimean Tatars, in particular the "Mejlis", headed by Dzhemilev [head of Crimean Tatar radicals - FR] their vassals [and generously fund them - FR]. It can hardly be a coincidence that the blackout of Crimea by these "vassals" associated with the Turkish security forces and a provocation with the downing of our plane occurred simultaneously.

Another factor systematically worsening our relations is the issue of Armenian genocide, which this year marked 100 years. Russia and Armenia are strategic allies with the same view about the crime by the then regime of the Young Turks (majority of Armenians were tortured, by the way, in the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zaur). The participation of Vladimir Putin in the events commemorating the genocide caused Erdogan to throw a downright fit of uncontrolled anger.

In other words, history and geography doom and condemn Russia and Turkey for a feud. But both parties are able to inflict enough trouble on each other, so the entire last year they were making desperate efforts for rapprochement - geopolitics was to be adjusted by economics: the construction of "South Stream", the intensification of Russian tourism giving Turkey good revenues, creating opportunities for consultative discussion of issues and solving major problems of the region by the Russian-Turkish consensus.

But such mutual understanding pushed towards a sharp deterioration in relations of Erdogan's Turkey with the US and the EU. Neo-islamist and neo-ottoman Erdogan carries out a very aggressive policy, not appealing to either Washington or Berlin or Brussels, in fact, seeking to restore the Ottoman Empire.

Therefore, the motion in the direction of Russia was for him a logical way to counterbalance American influence. It worked in Russia's favor during the stage of the reunification with Crimea, but this strategy was doomed long-term, because fundamentally, Russia and Turkey are doomed to clash, which can only be dimmed by mutual concessions.

The time for concessions ended when Russia launched an operation in support of Assad in Syria against ISIS. Erdogan was the most fanatical enemy of Assad, as he hoped that Islamized Sunni Syria would become a vassal of Turkey, and perhaps even return inside its borders. Turkey was one of the midwives at the birth of ISIS - it is extremely interested in the local oil, and in the ISIS fight with the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds.

The nightmare of the birth of Kurdistan hangs over Turkey like a sword of Damocles for many decades. The emergence after the collapse of Saddam Hussein of de facto independent Iraqi Kurdistan has made the situation especially dangerous for Turkey, and the sudden appearance of ISIS aggressively fighting the Kurds, the ISIS army led by former Saddam generals, of course, made Turks more than happy. Turkish troops and the air force strike the Kurdish militias in Syria directly.

Russian operation in Syria mixed all the cards for Erdogan.

First, it ensures the political future of Assad, or at least a successor agreed with Assad. Restored Syria will become Alawite-Christian-Shia-Sunni and certainly anti-Turkish. Oil extraction has been pulled out from under his nose, and Erdogan began resembling a furious Sherkhan ...

Secondly, Russia, and now France, made it their ultimate goal the complete eradication of ISIS, which automatically means strengthening the Kurds and the reduction of the Turkish influence in the region.

Moreover, Russia is doing this in tandem with Iran, which is de facto a key ally of Russia in the Middle East, an alliance of the type, where both sides are mutually reinforcing, both working for the common cause, and both sides benefit from the union.

And Iran is Turkey's main rival in the struggle for regional dominance. And it also developed historically. Byzantium (the place of which is geographically occupied by Turkey) against the Iranian Sassanids, then Ottomans against Safavids and Qajar, and today Sunni Erdogan against the Shiite ayatollahs. That is, the strengthening of Iran by Russia would be tantamount to the collapse of the entire imperial policy of Turkey.

Naturally, the Turkish government is furious and wants to somehow kick Russia out of Syria. Turkey has repeatedly made threatening statements and gestures regarding alleged violations of Turkish borders by our aviation operating against Syrian terrorists.

No other country, including even the United States, made so many attacks against Russian foreign policy. Some experts do not rule out even the involvement of Turkish and Qatari security services in the tragedy with the Russian airplane in Sinai, though officially this hypothesis has never been voiced.

There is no doubt that the terrorist attacks targeting the energy supply of Crimea by Dzhemilev and Co. were coordinated with their patrons in Ankara. Against this background of Russia's strengthening in Syria the positions of Turkey and the United States began drifting back towards each other, as Erdogan clearly wants to put pressure on Russia with the help of NATO.

And here comes the next move - the downing of the Russian plane targeting the terrorists, under the pretext of its entry into the Turkish airspace. According to the Turkish version, the Russian Su-24 was shot down after warnings by the Turkish F-16s. According to our Ministry of Defense, the plane never left Syrian airspace.

There is no reason to believe that the Russian side is just being defensive and the Turkish is speaking the truth. The tactical goal of the Turks is with this plane crash to indicate an actual "no-fly zone" in northern Syria, which would save the militants from ultimate annihilation, which in Latakia, (where our plane was shot down) was quite close.

This idea of a no-fly zone was supported by the US hawks, who consider Russia an enemy number one. The last straw, apparently, was the demonstrative destruction by our air-space forces of oil convoys coming from ISIS territory to Turkey.

Most of all the incident with the plane crash is reminiscent of a classic provocation. The Turkish side showed a diagram in which the Russian bomber is flying over microscopic wedge of the Turkish territory deep into Syria. Turkish geographic wedge into  Syria - is the so-called area of ​​Alexandretta, which Turkey annexed from France, which controlled Syria after World War I.

In 1938, parliament of this region declared the area an independent republic of Hatay - it was the last foreign policy operation of Kemal Ataturk before his death. In 1939, Turkey annexed Hatay.

This is how the Turkish wedge into the Syrian territory was formed, covered with a multitude of small protrusions. That a Russian plane could fly over one of them is, in principle, not impossible, as the border is very complex and elusive. But it only means that this time it was expected to be knocked down.

The triumphant demonstration of the body of our pilot on Turkish TV and generally surprisingly high preparedness by Turkish media to broadcast the incident in real time, speaks for it being a direct provocation against Russia.

Turkey hopes to force Russia to abandon the operation near the Turkish border, which will largely sabotage our entire operation. Even if Russia pleads guilty to the violation or not, it will undergo a major public humiliation as a nation, whose military aircraft can be shot down with impunity.

Escalation of the conflict could also be in Turkey's interest, as this will allow it to cut the sea communications of our group in Syria, and perhaps even try to block it  with ground forces, which Turkey has much more of in the region (although I would not overestimate the fighting capacity of the Turkish army) .

Turkey can carry out the aggressive actions under the NATO umbrella, because the alliance will likely have to intervene if the Turks employ article 5 of the "North Atlantic Treaty". The Western countries are seriously annoyed by Erdogan, but it is hardly enough to refuse to perform the obligations of the NATO treaty.

Russia's military options to influence Turkey are limited by the weakness of our Black Sea fleet, and most importantly - by the threat of escalating to a global conflict, and, moreover, by extremely disadvantageous configuration of the possible theater of the conflict, as our air-space forces are operating in the Turkish rear and their land communications and air bridge options depend on the politically unstable Iraq, just recently occupied by the US.

That is, before our forces in Syria looms the very threat of severing communications, which was seen from the outset as serious, in contrast to the mythical "militant attacks."

In a sense, our policy today is paying the price for refusing to be consistent in solving geopolitical issues. We entered the game in Syria, with the outstanding issue of Crimea-Novorossia, as a result, today we have an exacerbation in Donetsk, energy and transport blockade of Crimea, a front against ISIS and a looming front against Turkey, which is a NATO member.

So, today we are faced with the threat of war on several fronts, in which Turkey has assumed the role of lead instigator and aggressor who must "lay siege" to Russia. This role for Turkey is historically organic. Here we can recall the war of 1787-1891, which was directly provoked by the Western powers in response to the strengthening of Russia and its occupation of Crimea.

No sooner had Mother Catherine rode to Crimea with foreign delegations, and Potemkin showed his villages, as Turkey declared war on Russia, which made Suvorov and Ushakov famous. Moreover, for Russia it was a war on two fronts - simultaneously Sweden declared war on Russia, and its attack was repelled by the Baltic fleet with almost no involvement of ground forces.

So Russia finally managed, and with the Treaty of Jassy Turkey recognized Crimea Russian, and the Russian border has been pushed beyond the Dniester. But do not forget that Russia was then supported by Austria, but today there are not many of those who wish to go against Turkey in the European Union.

So the situation is really extreme. In a sense, we are cornered. If Russia flushes the incident, it would mean a public apology from our side, then all the Western media publications have already prepared the headlines that the cocky Russia has been put in its place by Turkey, reminding who is who.

If Russia wants to look good in this conflict it would have to force Turkey to publicly apologize for which it needs a set of effective sanctions and threats - from supporting Kurdistan to breaking the economic and tourist relations, and most importantly - be prepared for fierce stand-off of defense systems at the Syrian border. Then Russia can forget about supplying our group through the Bosphorus. In conclusion, we got another major front in addition to the already existing.

The most promising, in my opinion, would be to treat the situation as a systemic problem. That is, Turkish issue should be solved not in Syria but in Ukraine and Novorossia, because Turkey is just a piece of the puzzle in a global confrontation and its aggression will immediately lose its meaning for Washington, if we win at the front nearest to us.

And without the support of Washington Turkey's capabilities will shrink to the scale of the state, the power of which is simply not comparable with Russia. We must play not against the player, but against the game technicians.

(KR: Precisely why Turkey needs America)


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