By Jeffrey A. Stacey
In the days after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 aircraft, the world waited to see how Russian President Vladimir Putin and his advisers would spin the obvious fact that his country got caught red-handed violating Turkish airspace and ignoring warnings to alter the flight path. This speculation would have been entertaining if the matter were not so serious. Almost as intriguing was the Western handwringing about Turkey’s “rash” action, which was, in fact, not rash at all since it came after a long string of Russian provocations.
Perhaps the West was so quick to privately criticize Turkey because it is partly to blame. If the United States had responded more effectively to Russia’s intervention in Syria a couple of months ago, Russia would have been deterred from further provocations. There would have been very little chance that U.S. actions against Russia would be met with escalation. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Russia fears NATO involvement more than NATO fears Russia. Equally pertinent, Turkey has pipeline agreements with Russia that Russia needs in place. Notably, these were left off of the economic hit list that Russia finally got around to issuing after it publicly decried Turkey for allegedly stabbing it in the back.
Whomever it to blame, after all the mistakes that have been made by all sides in Syria—allowing it to turn from a Syrian uprising to a civil war and now a regional sectarian war—the Turkish-Russian dustup is proving advantageous. On Thursday, after meeting with French President François Hollande, Putin publicly committed to joining the U.S.-led coalition against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS), to coordinating strikes with the coalition, and to striking ISIS and not those fighting ISIS. NATO’s strong public backing of Turkey and warnings to Russia have, to a degree, begun to hit home as Russia immediately staged multiple air attacks on ISIS. Putin understands that he needs to get on board with the West or else lose influence in the Syrian endgame. It is noteworthy that this shift came now, not immediately after the Russian civilian airliner was brought down by ISIS in Egypt.
Picture: Michael Sandberg, US Navy (http://www.navy.mil; VIRIN: 030614-N-4374S-003) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons