Ankara falls into Moscow's trap
What should be the key question to ask for an accurate understanding of why Ankara downed a Russian Su-24 warplane in the Turkish-Syrian border region on Nov. 24? If we had tried to formulate the question on the day of the incident, most of us would have probably asked, “What interest Ankara has in downing a Russian plane?” But now, two weeks after the incident, we have the chance to compare the two countries’ attitudes and actions in the crisis, and then the most accurate and pertinent question emerges: “What interest does Moscow have in making Turkey shoot down a Russian plane?”
Indeed, Turkey downed the plane but Russia was the playmaker in this crisis. The speed and scope of the sanctions Moscow slapped on Turkey immediately after the incident in the realms of tourism, foreign trade, investment and joint projects suggest that the set of moves could have been planned in advance for a potential Syria-related crisis. The deployment of S-400 air defense missiles at the Hmeymim air base in Syria only two days after the incident indicates that the deployment was pre-planned.
Another indication of pre-crisis preparation is the swift frontal attack by Russia’s propaganda machine on the issue of the Islamic State’s illicit oil trade with Turkey, directly targeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family. The Russian propaganda seems directed at the Western public, to further worsen Erdogan’s already unfavorable image and thus make it harder for NATO allies to back Turkey up. In short, the Russians have been trying to isolate Turkey in the crisis.
A similar review of Ankara’s actions offers no signs of significant pre-planning. In fact, Ankara has taken no steps of this kind. Its attitude since Nov. 24, when the Su-24 was downed, boils down to efforts to calm Russia's pushing a policy of planned escalation, and failing to do that, put on a brave face against the Russian sanctions. On Dec. 5, for instance, Erdogan sought to downplay Russia’s decision to significantly curb imports from Turkey, saying, “So what if you buy or not!” Similarly, he has repeated at every opportunity that Ankara will not apologize to Moscow.
Certainly, Turkey is not expected to apologize for shooting down a foreign warplane that allegedly violated its air space. But in any case, Russia’s goal here is not an apology and compensation to close the incident. Had it been, its sanctions would not have been so diverse, radical and comprehensive nor its tone so brusque.
Moscow’s ultimate objective appears to be the removal of the core reason that prompted its military intervention in Syria: the bankrupted Syria policy that Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, have maintained with an irrational insistence.
No doubt one of the main reasons for the Russian intervention was to prevent the uncontrolled collapse of the Damascus regime. Battling IS was another. The United States getting Ankara’s approval to deploy warplanes at the Incirlik base, not far from Syria, could be seen as a secondary reason. Yet, the mother of all the reasons is Turkey’s Syria policy. Ankara’s proxy war against Damascus, backed by Riyadh and Doha, has been the primary factor behind the regime’s abrupt descent into an uncontrolled collapse.
Without Turkish soil being available for the indiscriminate use of jihadists since 2011, the conditions that gave rise to IS would have not taken hold in northern Syria, and IS would have not grown strong enough to become a major security threat for the whole world. In this sense, the deployment of the US Air Force to the Incirlik base in the fight against IS was also a result of Ankara’s policies....MORE