Putin reacts strongly and warns of “significant consequences” following Turkey’s reported downing of Russian aircraft this morning, further stating that “We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today”. With initially contrasting claims regarding the nature and location of the attack, some details remain unclear. However this is what we know so far.
A Russian Su-24 was shot down by Turkish F-16s while close to the Turkish border. There are contradictory statements coming from Moscow and Ankara in regards to which side of the border the plane was on. Putin has continually stated that there was no violation of Turkish air-space and that the plane posed no threat to Turkish national security, describing the attack as “a stab in the back” perpetrated by “accomplices of terrorists”, which may be the first time a member of the international community has directly accused Turkey of cooperating with ISIS.
In reference to Turkey’s supposed support of/ complicity in illegal ISIS oil smuggling, Putin claimed that “IS has big money, hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, from selling oil. In addition they are protected by the military of an entire nation. One can understand why they are acting so boldly and blatantly. Why they kill people in such atrocious ways. Why they commit terrorist acts across the world, including in the heart of Europe”. Ankara on the other hand has refuted purported links to ISIS, simply claiming that the plane crossed over the border and was warned upwards of ten times before it was shot down.
According to an earlier statement from the Syrian Turkmen brigade deputy commander, Alpaslan Celik, both of the pilots were found dead after the brigade attacked them while in the air. However a subsequent statement from security forced in Ankara contradicts this claim and Turkey’s National Intelligence Organizations (MIT) is said to be in contact with rebel groups in order to have the pilots handed over, both of whom are reportedly alive and well.
This extreme escalation in the conflict comes just days after Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador to Ankara in regards to their ongoing bombing campaign against Syrian Turkmens in Latakia.Davutoglu stated during a press conference that there would be “serious consequences” to these attacks, echoing Putin’s later statement.
Although this is claimed to be the first NATO attack on a Russian plane since the end of the Cold War, Turkey has in fact already downed two planes under similar circumstances, however both were unmanned drones. Turkey has called an emergency NATO meeting which will take place at 5pm (Brussels time) tonight. Some analysts are claiming this attack represents Turkish efforts to further embroil NATO in this conflict, and particularly, to pressure the US to support a no-fly-zone on the Syrian border.
Turkish-Russian relations have already become extremely taut during the course of this conflict, with Moscow staunchly supporting Assad and Ankara covertly supporting rebel groups in order to remove him from power. This attack however may see relations reach new lows and although this is unlikely to lead to all out war, will have serious economic consequences for Turkey who relies on Russia for up to 65 percent of gas imports. Furthermore, Russia constitutes 12 percent of Turkey’s tourism industry with up to 3.5 million tourists visiting each year.
Reports on social media are claiming that gas import contracts will not be renewed and some have already ceased. Furthermore, Russia’s parliamentary deputy speaker has advised Russians not to visit Turkey, calling for the cancellations all flights to Turkey and the evacuation of all Russian citizens. Russian Foreign Minister, Segei Lavrov, has also cancelled his scheduled visit to Turkey which was due to take place on Wednesday.
With much to lose, Turkey’s gamble in attacking Russia in order to gain NATO support in Syria seems ill-advised. NATO-Russian relations have actually been improving of late and NATO states will be extremely unwilling to let relations deteriorate again.
Continued border infractions seem likely at this point and Russia may chose to retaliate by shooting down a Turkish plane, further exacerbating tensions.
However, this will almost certainly not escalate into an all-out conflict as it is in neither Turkey’s nor Russia’s interests to do so. The forthcoming NATO emergency meeting will likely conclude with calming statements and requests on all involved to refrain from further antagonizing this issue.
Despite harsh rhetoric on both sides then, this situation is likely to ease quickly. NATO states are keen on including Russia in a diplomatic solution to Syria and even Ukraine and Russia does not have the means or the inclination to start another diplomatic war.