BLOG 281 November 30, 2015
Last Tuesday Turkey shot down a Russian warplane after repeated warnings to stop violating Turkish airspace. Russia screamed, but NATO’s Secretary-General immediately said that the military organization stood firmly behind its ally Turkey and supported its territorial integrity. Turkey didn’t back off on the charge of Russia’s violation of their air space and no apologies were forthcoming.
A visibly angry Putin warned “significant consequences” would follow. Subsequently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Russia was suspending its visa-fee travel restrictions with Turkey which struck a blow at Turkey’s tourism industry. Around 3.3 million Russian’s visited Turkey last year. Russian tourists were warned not to travel to Turkey. However, the Russian response is measured and would not effect gas exports to Turkey. Russia would again be the big loser there.
What’s going on?
Putin has been trying to muscle his way into the Middle East for sometime, Syria has been an ally and he’s trying to protect Assad. When there were no apologies, Putin had to react and look tough to protect the image he is trying to project. Turkey stood up to him and that diminishes the appearance Putin is trying to promote.
The truth is that the Russian economy remains troubled and the reduction in the price of petroleum has pushed them further into a hole. Putin growls but his roar is actually weak.
And Turkey? What’s happening there?
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also likes to flex his muscles. Intolerant of dissent, his office is known for being heavy-handed. In previous blogs, I’ve described Muslim Erdogan’s desire to create a Sunni Axis running form Turkey through Syria down to Iran that would cut off Saudi Arabia and any other Shia countries. Currently, the president is also concerned that the Kurds might come out of the Syrian civil war with there own country that would border Turkey. In an attempt to elevate Turkey’s status with the Muslim world, Erdogan cut off Israel’s intelligence gathering capacities that ran through Turkey for decades. With a clap of the hands, he turned Turkey’s old ally Israel away.
So, what’s Erdogan up to? He is demonstrating that Russia doesn’t frighten him and he can dish out retaliation with the best of them. When Russia pushes him, Erdogan pushes back maybe even a little harder. The War rumbles on.
The squabble between Russia and Turkey is a side show. The problem with the Syrian civil war is that it has become like the Spanish civil war that preceded World War II. Syrian’s civil war is actually pitting Saudi Arabia against Iran with Russia on Iran’s side and American with the Saudi’s. No one will say this out loud but Russia’s recent involvement in the war is another side show with everyone claiming that ISIS is the problem. No question that ISIS is a big, big issue but the entrenched position of Syria’s current government only sustains ISIS on the battlefield.
The politicians keep jaw-boning and the bombs keep flying. Why won’t it stop? Because all the participants are more concerned for their self-interest and appearance than they are for the well-being of a beleaguered Syria filled with dying people, the war continues..