The Downing of Russian Jet: Turkish Delusion and American Strategy
While Turkish propaganda, being backed as it is by the U.S., about shooting down a Russian jet is based upon the so-called notion of “State Sovereignty”, hardly anyone seems to question the multiple violations of Syrian state’s sovereignty that Turkey has been directly (and still is) involved in since at least 2011. Not only has it been targeting Kurds in Syria but is also directly involved in unleashing forces of destruction in the form of ISIS and other “Western friendly” terrorist organizations since the beginning of the current phase of the conflict. The very act of shooting a Russian jet, an un-declared act of war against Russia as it is, is a continuation of that very violation of Syrian state’s sovereignty as well as a part of Turkey’s “dangerous ISIS games.”
The shooting down of a Russian jet, which was engaged against terrorists by all means, is certainly a reflection of Turkish anxiety over the success of the Russian air campaign against forces of destruction. Erdogan’s ideological framework is such that he delusionaly envisages himself to be a regional hegemon whose influence and power will stretch, once he is able to surgically remove potential bottlenecks from its way, from the Mediterranean to Western China. This is what drives him to continue to fight for a puppet government to be installed in Syria, and for free rein to massacre the Kurds as he pleases. Past few months’ developments, especially since the beginning of the Russian campaign, seem to have awakened Erdogan only to find himself on the verge of a potential hell.
A strong state of Syria, purged of every type of terrorist organization, would be a threat to Turkey’s un-real dream of re-enacting itself as Ottoman Empire in miniature. While this may be Turkey’s vital interest vis-à-vis Syria, ‘the West’ has larger strategic objectives to achieve out of this conflict. As such, just when some signs of an agreement or compromise on Syria were emerging—-as shown in the latest round of talks in Vienna—the downing of Russian jet seems to have taken the situation back to the square one.
While the act of shooting down a Russian jet, and the way it was video-recorded, was clearly aimed at putting the Russian campaign on halt by “discouraging” it, it hasn’t happened. Contrary to what Turkey and its Western allies might have calculated, Russian campaign against terrorists as well as its financers is going to intensify.
The talks in Moscow between Vladimir Putin and France’s Francois Hollande clearly demonstrated the Russian resolve against all disruptive actors, both State and non-State, in the Middle East. The talks have un-ambiguously signalled that Russia intends to launch a sustained campaign internationally to expose Turkey’s covert links with the Islamic State. Vladimir Putin also disclosed that the region adjacent to the Turkish border in northern Syria (which Ankara profiles as the traditional homeland of Turkmen tribes) is actually a beehive of terrorists who have flocked to Syria from many countries, including Russia, and their Turkish mentors.
While Russia (and France to an extent) is unambiguously clear about the need for intensifying the fight against terrorists, Russia’s military presence in Syria continues to irk the U.S. as it is the biggest hurdle against its policy of balkanizing Syria into different “zones” and thereby reduce the state of Syria into a sort of quagmire of sectarian and ethnic faultlines. Russian campaign is a hurdle against it and, as such, Russian inclusion in a US-led coalition is also certain to put a permanent full-stop to Syria’s destruction: hence, downing of the Russian jet to exclude it from the “grand coalition.”
In fact, the U.S.’ priority is the prospect of an Anglo-American caucus emerging within the US-led coalition as its ‘steel frame’ so that things remain under control. Russia’s induction, on the other hand, might altogether change the alchemy of the coalition, make it unwieldy and shut the door on any future prospect for NATO assuming the role of a peacemaker or peacekeeper in the Middle East. In this context, the Turkish-Russian tension is certainly a splendid window of opportunity for the U.S. and its allies to somehow bury the Russian proposal of an international coalition under UN auspices to fight the ISIS. Russian resolve to continue to fight ISIS, in this context, is a direct response to the increasingly gloomy prospects of such a coalition.
In fact, as Vladimir Putin seemed to imply during his joint press conference with Hollande, the downing of a Russian jet is actually a failure of that “coalition.” He clearly stated, “We are exchanging information with it (US), but we are very concerned by the nature of the exchanges and the results of our joint work. Just look: we warned our US partners in advance about where our pilots would be operating, when, and at what flight levels. The American side, which heads the coalition that includes Turkey, knew about the time and location of the flights. And that is precisely where and when we were hit.” He continued, “We (Russia) do not need such cooperation, with anyone, any coalition or country”.
Given this, the U.S. strategy to force a Russian military “exodus” from Syria seems to have drastically failed. While the intention was to drastically reduce, if not remove altogether, Russia’s military presence in Syria to ultimately exclude it from any future political settlement, the opposite might happen in near future. With Russia all set to intensify its campaign with or without any coalition, the U.S. and its allies seem to have unwittingly fallen a poor prey to what can better be called their folly of judgement.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.