Why Did Turkey Shoot Down the Russian Jet? Part 1
In the aftermath of the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber by a Turkish F-16, tensions between Russia and Turkey are precarious. Both countries have their own accounts of what happened. The Russians of course state that their aircraft did not violate Turkish airspace with the surviving pilot Konstantin Murakhtin claiming his plane was struck without radio or visual warning. The Turks say that they repeatedly warned the Russian bomber that it was approaching Turkish airspace and then after the bomber violated their airspace for 17 seconds, patrolling F-16’s shot it down.
For the sake of argument lets assume that the Turkish account is more or less true. So a Russian jet that was obviously targeting rebel fighters in Syria traversed a very small knob of Turkish airspace for a couple of seconds. Does such a violation warrant a shoot down? It should be noted that in 2014 Turkish jets violated Greek airspace 2,244 times and that a few days ago six Turkish F-16’s violated Greek airspace for almost 30 minutes. Not once did responding Greek fighter planes retaliate against these Turkish incursions. But beyond the hypocrisy of the Turkish shoot down of the Su-24, more salient is its consequent provocation of the formidable President of Russia, Vladimir Putin.
The cost of provoking Russia
It must be realized that Russia is in a position to do significant economic harm to Turkey. Russia supplies around 50% of Turkey’s natural gas, imports significant amounts of Turkish fruits and vegetables, sends millions of tourists each year to Turkey and provides Turkish construction companies access to projects worth billions. Furthermore the two countries are jointly cooperating on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project and the $20 billion Akkuyu nuclear power project.
All of these economic relations, which amount to tens of billions of dollars, have been endangered by Turkey’s actions. The Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev has already stated that “The direct consequences are likely to be the renunciation of a number of important joint projects and Turkish companies losing their position on the Russian market.” He also spoke of “introducing limits or bans on the economic activities of Turkish economic structures working in Russia, a limitation of the supply of products, including food products, and on the work and provision of services by Turkish companies and other restrictive measures.”
Medvedev was not blowing hot air as subsequently Putin has issued a decree involving economic sanctions and other measures against Turkey. Turkish citizens will no longer be able to work in Russia, nor visit without a visa. Russian charter flights and vacation tours to Turkey will be suspended and the import of goods from Turkey and the activities of Turkish organizations will be restricted in Russia. This is most likely just the beginning of Russia’s retaliation against Turkey’s “treacherous war crime” as Putin has stated “if they think it will be possible to get away with restrictions on tomato trade or some other restrictions in the building and other industries, they are grossly mistaken.“
But beyond economic considerations, there are the potentially more dangerous military ones. Russia is a world superpower, while Turkey is only a regional power. Russia has thousands of tactical and strategic nukes coupled to state of the art delivery systems, while Turkey has no nuclear weapons. Also compared to Turkey, Russia has superior conventional forces, including cruise missiles, the S-400 anti-aircraft system, heavy strategic bombers, etc.
In short, while Turkey has a strong military itself, Russia’s is considerably stronger and baring significant assistance from NATO, Turkey would most likely be routed in any conflict between the two nations. Furthermore Putin does not seem to be the type that kindly takes to being provoked as illustrate by him saying “We shall remind them many a time what they have done and they will more than once feel regret what they have done.“ So why would Turkey antagonize Russia and risk an economic and military conflict which it would most definitely lose. Is the de facto ruler of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan crazy?
A simple mistake?
There are many possibilities that could explain what Erdoğan was thinking when he provoked Russia. The first possibility is that it had nothing to do with Erdoğan. Instead a ‘simple’ mistake was made. A trigger happy Turkish fighter pilot may have over reacted and upon the first hint of a violation of Turkish airspace downed the Russian jet. However, this possibility is unlikely because generally speaking no fighter pilot would down a foreign military plane for transiently and harmlessly violating an unimportant sector of airspace for a couple of seconds. There have also been more prolonged and more provocative prior violations of Turkish airspace by Russian jets, which did not lead to violent aerial confrontations.
Thus it is most likely that the Turkish pilot must have been given orders, ultimately originating from higher ups in the military and government, to shoot down any Russian aircraft that comes within an inch of Turkish airspace. In fact it was just admitted by a Turkish military official that “During the five-minute warning period, both Air Force Commander Gen. Ünal and Combat Air Force and Air Missile Defense Commander Lt. Gen. Mehmet Şanver were informed. The pilots succeeded in implementing the procedure as there was no negative command from either commander.” No this was not the unpremeditated actions of a reckless fighter pilot, something more is going on here.
Turkey a pawn of America
Ruling out pilot error, it is safe to assume that the top leaders of Turkey, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu were involved in the incident, but is it possible that they themselves were only following orders from another international power. Some people such as radio talk show host Dr. Michael Savage, former head of the US Treasury Dr. Paul Craig Roberts and political commentator Andrew Korybko are arguing that it was the US and its President Barack Obama who ‘ordered’ or at the least allowed Turkey to down a Russian military aircraft, not necessarily this specific Su-24, but any Russian warplane that violated Turkish airspace, however slightly.
During an interview with PressTV Dr. Roberts reasoned that “It seems unlikely that the Turkish government would commit an act of war against a much more powerful neighbor unless Washington had cleared the attack.” According to Dr. Roberts it was either President Obama or the neoconservatives who desired the attack because they “are disturbed by the French president’s call for unity with Russia against ISIL.”
So if Turkey downs a Russian airplane this will bring Russia into confrontation with Turkey and its NATO allies, and because France is apart of NATO then it will be unable to continue cooperating with Russia. Dr. Savage has a similar theory, but according to him the desire of bringing Russia into conflict with NATO is solely to remove them from Syria and to then oust Assad from power. Whereas Korybko sees the motivation of America being driven, inter alia, by energy considerations, as they want to prevent the completion of the Turkish Stream pipeline by souring Turko-Russian relations, which in the wake of events has been shelved.
While many will immediately reject such theories as being conspiratorial, unfortunately, they are plausible, as the US does seem to be narrowly focused on both maintaining its world hegemony which means thwarting Russia and ousting Assad from power. The ploy of bringing Russia into conflict with NATO through the instigated provocation of Turkey could very well achieve America’s goals. However, if America does in fact desire a show down between NATO and Russia they have not been pushing for it hard since the downing of the Su-24.
While Obama has stated that “Turkey, like every country, has the right to defend its territory and its airspace,” he has also spoke of “the importance of de-escalating the situation and pursuing arrangements to ensure that such incidents do not happen again.” Furthermore what concrete action has America and NATO taken to further escalate the situation?
In fact America and Germany have recently withdrawn their Patriot missile batteries from Turkey. They have not as of yet deployed their top of the line F-22 fighter jet to Turkey, which would be needed to deal with the advanced S-400 anti-aircraft system. One would think that if America is trying to spark a confrontation with Russia, that it would be advisable to have your most advanced weapon systems in theater. But this doesn’t appear to be the case. According to political commentator Joel Skousen “it would take NATO a tremendous amount of time to get into position to where they can really defend Turkey.” So if America is trying to provoke Russia into conflict, then they and NATO are woefully unprepared for that conflict (maybe they are waiting for Russia to militarily escalate the situation further before they respond further). Although it should be noted that NATO is proposing to send ships, aircraft and possibly missile systems to Turkey.
Returning to Dr. Roberts quote that I cited, his argument is partially predicated on the assumption that Erdoğan is neither crazy nor irrational enough to by himself provoke Russia into a potential conflict that Turkey would most definitely lose. Thus the only logical explanation is that America forced them to do it. However, is it beyond possibility that Erdoğan would provoke Russia on his own volition? In my opinion, it is in fact plausible to believe that Erdoğan is more than capable of ordering the downing of a Russian jet for his own desires.
Part 2 can be read Here.