On a day the president and his protégé prime minister were discussing a new cabinet list and Ankara was hosting James Winnefeld, the deputy chief of General Staff of the American military, and preparing to host Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, news broke out that Turkey had downed a Russian jet fighter that it said violated its airspace.
Under its “rules of engagement” developed and readjusted to the developments in Syria, Turkey made clear that any military craft violating Turkish airspace would be shot down without warning. This was the first time a Russian plane had ever been shot down by Turkey.
Naturally, what’s on stage in Ankara’s diplomacy cinema these days is not Gary Ross’ “Hunger Games,” but it is nevertheless equally a thriller, qualifying as some sort of “insanity games.”
The short Pinocchio of the Turkish executive was at pains to explain to the nation that the intelligence trucks that were captured in the act of – sorry, documented – carrying some arms and weapons, two years ago were indeed a foresighted operation by Ankara to help out the Turkmen population of Syria who would come under attack from the Syrian regime. Being foresighted is, of course, an important asset but was it not the same government that was lambasting the opposition for making false claims that the intelligence agency was involved in illicit arms trafficking? Was it the duty of the intelligence services to carry arms and ammunition to minorities of ethnic Turkish, Kurdish or whatever background in nearby countries? How bad do Turks feel about the unverified support of some allies of the country to the separatist terrorist gang? Naturally, a community waging an existential fight because of the attacks of the government of their country should not and cannot be mixed with an armed terrorist gang. However, can Turkey send arms and ammunition discreetly to some groups outside the country without the consent or knowledge of the country concerned? Obviously not. Did Turkey do such a thing? The premier confessed himself that indeed the country undertook such a move.
Now, shall we continue this attitude? Or shall we return to normalcy by insisting that insanity can only bring about further problems?
Besides Turkey, the United States, the Qataris and of course the Saudis, Russia’s new involvement in the Syrian quagmire was an alarming development for many people but indeed a game changer. Remember what big developments have taken place since Russia started aerial operations in Syria. First of all, though, perhaps reluctantly, the tall bold, bald and ever angry absolute ruler of Turkey realized that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists must be the “prime target” as it became the most important threat.
Second, Turkey’s all-powerful leadership realized that irrespective of how much it might be obsessed with the prospect of Kurds making the best use of the calamity continuing in Syria to carve themselves an independent state, the world just doesn’t see developments as if they have horse blinders on.
But more important than everything else, the downing of the Russian jet most likely will show Turkey, and I am afraid with some pain, that it is not the braggart of the neighborhood to dictate to everyone, especially if his opinion might not conform with international law.
Would the downing of a Russian jet not spoil and further strain relations between Russia and the West? Would Americans be happy with this sad development?
How the incident happened is, of course, also important, given the very fact that a Russian plane was downed, one pilot was killed and a second one survived, only to reportedly fall captive to the Turkmens. If the plane violated Turkish airspace and was downed, how did it happen that the surviving pilot landed in Turkmen territory and was captured there? There are conflicting reports, but of course developments will become clear in a few days’ time.
But irrespective of how such a development took place, it was obviously not a friendly move and if not today, tomorrow there will be some sort of a repercussion from Russia. Naturally, Turkey is a very big state and a world power, but it is dependent on Russia on many aspects, particularly in regard to natural gas… Despite all the moves Turkey has taken to find alternative sources of energy over the years, Turkey’s dependence on Russian gas is still very high, so let us all hope that the price of this new tension in ties will not be paid back with either a refusal to reduce high gas prices or worse, Turks having to endure some cold winter nights because of “troubles” in Russian gas deliveries to Turkey.
The “Insanity Games” dominating Turkey’s diplomacy cinema must be replaced with some realism or perhaps something with a touch of Realpolitik. Turkey must make a return to its peace-building, elder brother role and forget about its sectarian expansionist foreign policy.