NATO’s Tur­key stands up to Rus­sia’s Putin

Kyiv Post - - News - BY AL­LI­SON QUINN [email protected] Staff writer Al­li­son Quinn can be reached at [email protected]

When news broke on Nov. 24 that NATO mem­ber Tur­key had shot down a Rus­sian war­plane, so­cial me­dia erupted with the #WWIII hash­tag and pun­dits fran­ti­cally pre­dicted dire con­se­quences.

But as the week wore on, the in­ter­na­tional in­ci­dent has merely led to some fren­zied saber-rat­tling by Rus­sia, as well as a flurry of airstrikes on Syria’s border with Tur­key near the area where the Rus­sian Su-24 was shot down, leav­ing one pi­lot killed and an­other wounded.

Ex­perts say that while the in­ci­dent will not trig­ger World War III, it will shake up the geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion for a long time to come. The Krem­lin’s Vladimir Putin may go to great lengths to pre­serve his na­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion as a fierce, pow­er­ful na­tion ready to fight.

“This will af­fect Ukraine in some way be­cause this was not only a direct chal­lenge to Putin’s rep­u­ta­tion, but also a chal­lenge to global se­cu­rity. This is the first time some­one has re­sponded so strongly to Putin’s ag­gres­sion, and it just so hap­pens to be a coun­try with which Rus­sia has very close eco­nomic re­la­tions,” said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Vi­tali Ku­lyk.

“Rus­sia does not yet have a con­crete plan for how to re­spond,” he said, be­yond lash­ing out in ev­ery sphere pos­si­ble.

“The Rus­sian me­dia has al­ready be­gun with its anti-Turk­ish hys­te­ria. I wouldn’t rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that we will all soon be­come wit­nesses to an ag­gra­vated sit­u­a­tion in the South Cau­ca­sus,” Ku­lyk said, where Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties may try to make things dif­fi­cult for Tur­key to achieve any sort of co­op­er­a­tion.

All in all, he said, this would likely trig­ger much more Rus­sian ag­gres­sion – and this is “only the be­gin­ning” of that.

Ukrainian mil­i­tary ex­pert Vy­ach­eslav Tseluiko said the sit­u­a­tion had “com­pli­cated Rus­sia’s po­si­tion on the world stage” and would likely make it harder for the Krem­lin to win back the West.

Mean­while, Rus­sia and Tur­key have given dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent ac­counts of what occurred when the plane was shot down.

Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties said the pi­lots had been warned re­peat­edly to get out of Turk­ish airspace af­ter in­vad­ing it sev­eral times, though the warn­ings were not obeyed, and one plane was sub­se­quently shot down. Rus­sia, on the other hand, claims the plane was never in Turk­ish airspace, and the sur­viv­ing Rus­sian pi­lot on Nov. 25 told state-run me­dia he’d never got­ten any warn­ings and had never en­tered Turk­ish airspace to be­gin with.

Us­ing that ar­gu­ment, the Krem­lin is por­tray­ing the in­ci­dent as noth­ing short of a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said the in­ci­dent had been a “planned provo­ca­tion” by Tur­key, and Putin went even fur­ther by de­scrib­ing Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties as “the ac­com­plices of ter­ror­ists.”

“Do they want to put NATO at the ser­vice of the Is­lamic State?” he asked, send­ing a clear sig­nal to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that he re­garded this in­ci­dent as part of the in­ter­na­tional fight against ter­ror­ism – and that Rus­sia was the vic­tim.

The prob­lem for Putin is that Rus­sia has a track record of in­vad­ing Tur­key’s airspace and ig­nor­ing warn­ings. What Putin has de­scribed as a “stab in the back,” many oth­ers would call karma, or in­evitable.

In early Oc­to­ber, Tur­key’s mil­i­tary scram­bled fighter jets af­ter a Rus­sian fighter plane en­tered its airspace and got a bit too close to Turk­ish planes pa­trolling the border with Syria.

At that time, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan warned that his coun­try could not put up with such in­tim­i­da­tion tac­tics, and NATO Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Jens Stoltenber­g noted that the Rus­sian in­cur­sions “did not look like an accident.”

But or­di­nary Rus­sians sided with their lead­ers this time around, and Rus­sia turned against Tur­key in ev­ery sphere imag­in­able: Rus­sian tour op­er­a­tors can­celed all trips to Tur­key, Rus­sia’s cus­toms ser­vice be­gan re­fus­ing en­try to Turk­ish prod­ucts, the coun­try’s health watch­dog banned im­ports of Turk­ish foods for their “un­san­i­tary” na­ture.

A mob of an­gry pro­test­ers at­tacked the Turk­ish em­bassy in Moscow, and Rus­sia’s state-run me­dia, in the blink of an eye, made Tur­key its new enemy No. 1, re­plac­ing Ukraine com­pletely.

Prom­i­nent fig­ures even be­gan call­ing for peo­ple to va­ca­tion in Crimea rather than Tur­key from now on.

“It’s bet­ter to va­ca­tion in Crimea than in Tur­key,” VTB bank head An­drei Kostin told Rus­sia me­dia on Nov. 25.

Oddly, Kostin made no men­tion of the fact that the Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied penin­sula had next to no elec­tric­ity af­ter un­known sabo­teurs blew up power lines to fi­nally sever Ukraine’s en­ergy links with the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory.

That move was the sec­ond in­stance of some­one stand­ing up to Putin in the past week.

Hu­man rights ac­tivist Halya Coy­nash told the Kyiv Post that a Ukrainian block­ade of the penin­sula had ap­par­ently trig­gered more vis­its by Rus­sia’s Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice to the rel­a­tives of Crimean Tatar lead­ers.

While she ex­pressed un­cer­tainty about whether Rus­sia would tar­get Crimean Tatars to take re­venge on Tur­key, she said it couldn’t be ruled out.

“I doubt if it would be as direct as hate Tur­key, at­tack Crimean Tatars. On the other hand, they’re al­ready push­ing all kinds of lies about Crimean Tatars re­cruit­ing for ISIS. Since (Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry) Peskov has ap­par­ently just waf­fled about ‘not ex­clud­ing’ a ter­ror­ist threat from Tur­key, then I’d prob­a­bly ex­pect that line to be pushed even more strongly (in con­nec­tion with the Crimean Tatars),” Coy­nash said.

Tur­key has ex­pressed sup­port for the Crimean Tatars and had con­demned Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of the penin­sula from the get-go. It also spoke out against Rus­sia’s bomb­ing of Turk­men fight­ers near the border with Syria in re­cent weeks. Now that Rus­sia has in­creased airstrikes in that area, it seems the chances of suc­cess for an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion to fight ISIS are quite low.

Dmitry Goren­burg of Har­vard Univer­sity’s Davis Cen­ter for Rus­sian and Eurasian Stud­ies told the Kyiv Post that a great deal will de­pend on “how he (Putin) plays it and how the rest of the world re­acts.”

“My im­pres­sion is that most of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing both lead­ers and an­a­lysts, see the down­ing as an over­re­ac­tion by Tur­key,” Goren­burg said. “Er­do­gan has not made many friends in re­cent years, and his in­ter­na­tional im­age is only a lit­tle bet­ter than Putin’s.”

Rus­sia has spun the in­ci­dent as be­ing tied di­rectly to ter­ror­ism, the one area where the Krem­lin has been able to bond with the West af­ter the at­tacks on Paris on Nov. 13.

French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande – who has called for the lifting of sanc­tions against Rus­sia – was due to meet with Putin on Nov. 26 for talks on closer co­op­er­a­tion in Syria.

The U.S. has also ap­peared to be warm­ing up to Rus­sia lately.

On Nov. 25, the U.S. Depart­ment of State par­tially lifted sanc­tions against Rosoborone­x­port, Rus­sia’s state weapons ex­porter, for the ser­vice of Mi-17 he­li­copters in Afghanista­n “for the pur­pose of com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism glob­ally.”

It per­haps comes as no sur­prise then that Western lead­ers’ re­ac­tions to the Tur­key in­ci­dent were quite re­strained. U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said Tur­key was “within its rights to de­fend its airspace,” but he stopped short of blam­ing or crit­i­ciz­ing Rus­sia.

NATO chief Stoltenber­g was equally re­strained, ex­press­ing sup­port for Tur­key but call­ing for calm above all else.

Some saw the West’s re­sponse as a sign that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity sim­ply wasn’t ready to stand up to the Krem­lin.

“Rus­sia’s gen­er­ally shal­low re­sponse to Tur­key’s down­ing of a Rus­sian bomber jet re­veals that, in­deed, Putin is taken aback when con­fronted with res­o­lu­tion and bold­ness. Deep in his heart, Putin is a cow­ard; shame that the West seems to be even worse than this,” An­ton Shekhovtso­v of the Le­ga­tum In­sti­tute wrote on Face­book.

Pro­test­ers take part in a protest out­side the Turk­ish Em­bassy in Moscow. on Nov. 25. Tur­key shot down a Rus­sian war plane that en­tered its airspace near the Syr­ian border on Nov. 24. Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin warned Ankara that the “stab in the...

A pro­tester waves Tur­key’s na­tional flag as he and oth­ers shout slogans in front of Rus­sia’s con­sul­tate in Is­tan­bul dur­ing a demonstrat­ion against Rus­sia’s Syria pol­icy on Nov. 24 in Is­tan­bul. (AFP)

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