Before the downing of the Russian Jet near the Turkey-Syrian border, many military experts had been warning that the entry of Russia into the War campaign against ISIS, especially the act of flying jet planes with transponders off was an ingredient for a tragedy (Macfarquhar & Erlanger 1). For many years Russian President, Vladimir Putin has been challenging the NATO airspace. The tragedy that took place, even though not in the nature of the expected accident as indicated by military experts, has served to as a warning to global powers going to Syria to fight ISIS that, the battle is much more complicated than it appears (Roderick 1). President Putin has leveled accusation and threats against Turkey, at one time condemning Turkey as an “accomplice of terror” and comparing the shooting down of the jet as a stab in the back (Melvin Mullen & Bilginsoy 1). Turkey has repeatedly stated that it will do anything within its powers to protect its territory and airspace. This paper will exemplify how the downing of the Russia Jet by Turkey will shape the campaign against radical Islamists in Syria, and how the war of words between Russia and Turkey will influence tactics and cooperation of major powers against ISIS.
Conflict between Russia and Turkey
The ongoing conflict in Syria has attracted global attention, not because it’s peculiar, but because of the time it is taking place and the entanglement with which it has caused global powers. Since the war campaign led by the United States and her allies began, Turkey has played a pivotal role in helping attack various target destination in Syria (Al Jazeera 1). Most importantly Turkey has provided the United States, together with her allies a gateway to Syria. But the entry of Russia into the war campaign as an independent actor has totally distorted the balance and approach which the United States and her allies were using to attack ISIS elements in Syria (Roderick 1). United State, Britain, France, Turkey and their allies want President Assad removed from office and has allowed its border with Syria to be used by the rebels against President Assad, including Syria rebels that the West regard as terrorists (Melvin Mullen & Bilginsoy 1). On the other hand, Russia considers President Assad an important factor in bringing stability in Syria and has shown the willingness to prop him up amid the chaos and threat that is posed by both the Syrian rebels and the West (Macfarquhar & Erlanger 1). Even though Russia has repeatedly claimed that its attacks are aimed at the radical Islamic group, United State has continued to indicate that Russian attacks are channeled towards the Syrian rebels, who the United States consider vital in removing President Assad from power. This equation has been complicated by the recent downing of a Russian fighting jet near the Turkish-Syrian border (Melvin Mullen & Bilginsoy 1).
Immediately after Moscow confirmed that its Jet plane was brought down by Turkey, its defense ministry pronounced suspension of all military collaboration and mutual aid with Turkey. The downing of the Russian jet at a time when Russian foreign minister Lavrov Sergey was preparing to visit Turkey, and as expected the tour was immediately called off (Melvin Mullen & Bilginsoy 1). But the question that comes to many people’s minds is why Turkey would shoot down a Russia jet that is involved in a campaign meant to make Syria a stable state and remove radical Islamists groups that have made the region a haven for terrorist activities. Was Turkey Justified to shoot down the Russian jet?
Turkey has claimed that the Russia Jet had violated the Turkish airspace, and had been given a warning before it was shot down. Turkey has also indicated that this was not the first time Russia was violating its airspace. In actual sense days before the downing of the Russia, Jet Turkey had complained about several occasions that Russia was constantly violating its airspace (Roderick 1). This raises another fundamental question, why did Turkey opt to down the Russia Jet at this particular time, even when it was eminent that the violation had neither posed immediate threat to its airspace nor had it threatened the security of Turkey.
There is one theory that have pervaded the media over the last few days indicating that Russia involvement in the Syria crisis has left Turkey seething in pain. First, Turkey, which is aligned to the United States and the West, is unrelenting that President Assad has to leave office in order for the Syria to create a path to democracy and political stability (BBC 1). Just like the USA and a majority of the Western democracies, Assad attack on civilians against him, including the use of chemical weapons has left him unsuitable to lead a nation that is under immense pressure from the ISIS. In this sense the statement by Russia that Assad has to remain in office if the world expects stability in Syria has not gone down well with Turkey (Al Jazeera 1). The second point and perhaps the most important element that might have sparked reaction from Turkey on this particular instance is the fact that Russia has been attacking Tribesmen that Turkey has been protecting for many years and that it considers part of the Turkish populace (BBC 1). Actually, the Russian pilots who managed to escape from the Jet after it was hit by a missile were shot by the Turkmen tribesmen in the Northern part of Syria. The tribesmen have been playing a crucial role in fighting President Assad. A couple of weeks before the downing of the Russian Jet, Turkey had summoned the Russian diplomat to call upon Putin to halt attack on the Turkmen in the Syrian territory (Al Jazeera 1). Turkey has always maintained that the attacks waged by Russia in Syria were not meant to help the defeat ISIS and other radical groups but to help President Assad remain in power. In this respect, Russia has been accused of targeting rebel groups including the Turkmen tribesmen in Syria, who are want to remove Assad from power. The diplomatic row between Turkey and Moscow may have contributed immensely to the way that Turkey responded to the violation of its airspace (Al Jazeera 1).
Turkey Aggression a Worrying Phenomenon
The way that Turkey responded has not only worried Russia; NATO has also raised concern in the way that Mr. Erdogan authoritarian tendencies has impacted the campaign against ISIS and other radical group near the Turkish border (Al Jazeera 1). Washington has also indicated that, in many cases, the stance taken by Turkey in matters relating to Syria do not always reflect the feeling and agenda of United States, France and Britain. The United States and her allies have been using the Turkish airbase at Incirlik to wage air attacks on ISIS camps for many months, but the fact that Turkey has continued to level devastating attacks on the Syrian Kurds, a group that United States considers a pivotal ally in the war against ISIS (BBC 1). The downing of the Russia Jet, may coerce Western powers entering into the war against the Islamic group, re-design their approach and reconsider using Turkish airbases in the coming days (Roderick 1). Turkey has been entangled in a struggle with the Kurds in the Syrian territory for many years. Turkey perceives the Kurds as terrorist and considers them a dangerous group that aims to create a Kurdish state in the region. The Turkish leaders have indicated that Russia may have fallen victim to numerous Turkish air attack for violating its airspace if Turkey did not exercise restraint on several occasion (Al Jazeera 1).
The war of word between Russia and Turkey may have tremendous impacts on the war campaign against ISIS. Putin has constantly complained that Turkey needed to discuss the fatal incident with Russia, before it got in touch with NATO (Macfarquhar & Erlanger 1). NATO has maintained that Turkey reacted appropriately in violation of territorial integrity. The United States has also shown support for Turkey to safeguard its territory. The United Nation has called upon Turkey and Russia to show restraint and address the incident with peacefully (Macfarquhar & Erlanger 1).
As the war of words between Russia and Turkey continues, NATO may find itself in the middle of a conflict that does not show any signs to end soon. NATO will have to realign its strategies to ensue that it does not escalate the conflict between Russia and Turkey. Russia, has shown willingness to continue with its aerial attacks on the ISIS camps and help Assad regain control of the whole nation. United Stats and her allies will have to find a way to work with Russia without making Moscow feel as if she is not wanted. At the end of the day, it is the commitment form Russia, Turkey and the United States and her allies that will ultimately determine whether ISIS will be defeated or not.