Is Putin play­ing Rus­sian roulette with Tur­key?

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Vladimir Putin is known as a strate­gic plan­ner. Most ev­ery ex­pan­sion­ary ac­tion he takes is cal­cu­lated, de­ci­sive and in­cen­di­ary. Whether or not a Rus­sian fighter jet strayed into Turk­ish ter­ri­tory is in­con­se­quen­tial at this point. The ac­tions that were taken by the Turk­ish air force can­not be un­done – a fighter pi­lot is dead and the other one was res­cued by Rus­sian and Syr­ian forces. Tur­key main­tains that it sent out all nec­es­sary com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the pi­lots, and within 17 sec­onds it was game over.

Ques­tions and com­ments have been fly­ing thick and fast in both di­rec­tions: Is Tur­key to blame? Is Rus­sia to blame? Does it really mat­ter? Th­ese are all im­por­tant ques­tions that need to be an­swered with a cool head and an eye to the deesca­la­tion of the con­flict. Un­for­tu­nately, nei­ther man in Tayyip Er­do­gan or Vladimir Putin is likely to back down from a chal­lenge. Al­ready though, a sharp war of words has en­sued be­tween both coun­tries with prom­ises of puni­tive sanc­tions be­ing im­posed on Tur­key by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.

Tur­key is a NATO coun­try and Rus­sia isn’t. Tur­key is sup­port­ing forces seek­ing the ouster of Pres­i­dent Bashar alAs­sad. Rus­sia by con­trast has dropped an­chor in Syria with an im­pres­sive and for­mi­da­ble mil­i­tary arse­nal. Vladimir Putin is a close per­sonal friend of the Syr­ian dic­ta­tor, and he’s do­ing ev­ery­thing in his power to pre­vent him from be­ing top­pled by anti-gov­ern­ment forces, sep­a­ratists and ISIS. As such, the Rus­sians have been fly­ing hun­dreds of sor­ties ev­ery week against enemy forces – much to the cha­grin of NATO coun­tries like Tur­key, the US and oth­ers in the re­gion.

The Rus­sians are less con­cerned about de­stroy­ing ISIS than they are about prop­ping up As­sad. The tit-for-tat tension be­tween Tur­key and Rus­sia has been go­ing on for quite some time, and it ap­pears that when the Rus­sian fighter jet strayed into Turk­ish airspace, ten­sions boiled over and the de­ci­sion was made to shoot it down within 17 sec­onds. Putin and col­leagues con­tend that no ad­vance warn­ing was given to the Rus­sian jet and that it was an un­pro­voked act of ag­gres­sion which Tur­key should pay dearly for. How­ever, Vladimir Putin has stopped short of call­ing for mil­i­tary ac­tion against Tur­key.

Geopo­lit­i­cal ten­sions have been ratch­et­ing up be­tween th­ese two coun­tries in the wake of this highly con­tentious is­sue. Rus­sia re­cently suf­fered the loss of one of its pas­sen­ger jets that was re­port­edly blown up by the ter­ror­ist group ISIS. With both th­ese men tak­ing cen­tre stage, it’s easy to see how a rush of blood to the head could cause ir­repara­ble dam­age be­tween the coun­tries. As it stands, Turk­ish ex­ports to Rus­sia make up 4.3% of to­tal ex­ports, while Turk­ish im­ports from Rus­sia com­prise 6.5% of to­tal im­ports. Th­ese are sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures, and Rus­sia re­mains one of the prime trad­ing part­ners of Tur­key. If we turn our at­ten­tion to the cur­rency cross ex­change rates be­tween the TRY and the RUB, there’s noth­ing in it. There has been a 1.46% ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the Turk­ish lira over the past month. That hardly in­di­cates a sharp down­turn in eco­nomic for­tunes for ei­ther coun­try as a re­sult of the brew­ing con­fla­gra­tion.

Tur­key is for­tu­nate in that it re­ceives an es­ti­mated 3 mln Rus­sian tourists an­nu­ally. In terms of over­all trade with Tur­key, Rus­sia ranks sec­ond. The slight volatil­ity that has been ev­i­dent in the TRY/RUB of late is neg­li­gi­ble. On Fri­day, Novem­ber 27, the TRY/RUB pair was trad­ing at 22.7142. In the days pre­ced­ing that, the Turk­ish lira was markedly stronger, which in­di­cates that there has been a strength­en­ing of the ru­u­ble since the in­ci­dent. It is mi­nor how­ever. The Rus­sians have not wasted any time im­ple­ment­ing mea­sures to show Tur­key who is run­ning the show. They have de­ployed bat­ter­ies of S-400 anti-air­craft mis­siles through­out Syria. Th­ese are the most ad­vanced anti-air­craft sys­tems in the world and very few air­craft can avoid the radar of the sys­tem. Only a se­lect few Amer­i­can jets have this ca­pa­bil­ity. It is ca­pa­ble of fir­ing up to 72 mis­siles with near-100% suc­cess at 11,000 mph with a 10-sec­ond re­sponse time. This de­fen­sive sys­tem is a game-changer; it is pre­cisely what the US and its al­lies do not want to have in the hands of the enemy since it all but as­sures aerial supremacy for Syria and Iran. It can also hit ICBMs at an al­ti­tude of 30km. All Rus­sian bombers will now be ac­com­pa­nied by fighter jets in Syria.

There are sev­eral eco­nomic mea­sures that the Rus­sians are con­tem­plat­ing at the mo­ment, in­clud­ing the fol­low­ing:

- Fi­nan­cial and com­mer­cial re­stric­tions for in­vest­ment and bi­lat­eral trade;

- Rus­sia plans to put a halt to the nat­u­ral gas pipe­line be­neath the Black Sea, as well as a stop to the nu­clear power plant that is be­ing built for Tur­key;

- Rus­sia has al­ready in­structed travel agen­cies across the coun­try to stop sell­ing pack­ages to Tur­key, which is worth an es­ti­mated $2.7 bln an­nu­ally;

- Rus­sia also plans to place stricter con­trols on agri­cul­tural im­ports from Tur­key, which it says sub­stan­dard;

- Rus­sia will now slow the rate at which Turk­ish trucks can en­ter into the coun­try, forc­ing them to un­dergo more strin­gent tests, reg­u­la­tions and cus­toms con­trols. the are

Th­ese tit-for-tat mea­sures are sim­i­lar in part to the con­straints that were placed on Rus­sia when it in­vaded the Crimean penin­sula. Tur­key will balk at th­ese mea­sures since Rus­sia is a ma­jor trad­ing part­ner and a ma­jor sup­plier of en­ergy. The more likely out­come is a re­pair in the rift that has taken place re­cently, with an eye to the de-es­ca­la­tion of the con­flict.

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