Russian chess game vs. Turkish roulette

Russian chess game vs. Turkish roulette

Turks cheered up, just nine months ago, when their air force shot down a Russian jet along the Syrian border, citing airspace violations. They further cheered up in national pride when their government vowed to shoot down any other Russian jet that may violate the Turkish airspace. 

Then another Russian jet violated their airspace and was not shot down. But Turks still cheered over the fact that it was not shot down. They cheered again when their president bravely ruled out an apology to Russia over the incident. Then they cheered when their president apologized to Russia. Now they cheer because their president went to Russia to shake hands with Vladimir Putin and normalize “our two friendly countries’ relations.” It is an interesting national psyche.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, nine months later, has found the culprits for the downing of the Russian jet: “We now understand better, after the July 15 coup attempt, who wanted to pit Turkey and Russia against each other. Those [pilots] who shot down the Russian aircraft are members of the FETÖ [Gülenist] terror organization.” But wait a minute! Did we have a crypto Gülenist as prime minister? Or do we have a crypto president who selected that crypto prime minister?

After the two Turkish F-16s shot down the Russian SU-24 back in November the former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, said he had given the orders to shoot down any foreign aircraft that violates Turkish airspace. Mr. Davutoğlu firmly reiterated before and after the incident that ANY aircraft that violates Turkish airspace should be shot down - and that it is Turkey’s sovereign right to protect its airspace. Mr. Erdoğan himself warned that “Russia will have to bear the consequences if the violations [of Turkish airspace] continue,” which prompted this columnist to ask “What if Russia wants to suffer the consequences?”

Recently, Mr. Davutoğlu made a puzzling statement. He said he had not given the orders, but it had been decided at a meeting of the National Security Council (which the president chairs) to shoot down any violator, and that he had conveyed that decision to the military HQ. His account reads as: I did not give the orders but I did. 

No Turkish military pilot can have any authority to fly a fighter and shoot down a foreign aircraft for violating Turkish airspace. There must be orders from the fleet command and, further up, from the central command in Ankara. The central command in Ankara took the orders from the prime minister based on a prior decision taken at the National Security Council meeting. Simple. 

The pilots may or may not be linked with FETÖ. A court will have to find that out. But it is sheer dishonesty to hide the orders and put the entire blame on two pilots. All the same, the attempt to twist and corrupt facts certainly has true humor value. By the way, who was the Gülenist who pitted Turkey against Israel, Egypt, Syria, Iran and Iraq? He must be unmasked.  

Flying over Turkish airspace, the Russians were playing a smart set of chess game. They sacrificed one fighter and, consequently, reinforced their military deployments in Syria. They created a de facto no-fly zone against any Turkish military aircraft flying over the Syrian skies; they cost the Turkish economy in several billions of dollars; they won a shy Turkish apology, which the Turks said they would never grant them; and they are now aligning Turkey into their line of policy in Syria – one that Turkey once so passionately opposed to. Even Vladimir Putin could not imagine, nine months ago, that Turkey would propose joint military operations in Syria with Russia.

In contrast, the game Turkey played looks like “Turkish roulette” in which the pistol is fully loaded and a non-Russian player volunteers to take the first shot. 

Mr. Putin may once have been, or pretended to have been, awfully angry with the Turks for shooting down the Russian SU-24. But at least he must admit that Turks are fun.