Tuesday,
28 February 2017

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Putin outplays his own muscles

President Putin has created a mess none of his predecessors have ever seen before (including Soviet leaders and Russian presidents) -- NATO army officially attacked and destroyed the Russian warplane for the first time in history. UNIAN figures out what implications this unique incident may have.

REUTERS
REUTERS

It is no secret that the Russian jets occasionally violate the airspace of the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, and other foreign states "by mistake." Moreover, according to some reports, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry had already summoned the Russian ambassador regarding such mistakes. It was not the first time the diplomat tried to explain why his country’s warplanes flew over Turkey instead of Syria.

According to the Chief of the Russian Air Space Forces, Col.-Gen. Viktor Bondarev, one of such incidents, in early October when the Russian jet “got a bit into the Turkish sky,” was due to poor weather conditions (dense clouds) and the pilot’s missile evasion maneuver.

In general, all states that had joined the collective security system, have long tolerated the antics of the Russians, occasionally intercepting Russian combat aircraft and escorting the perpetrators out of their borders. But after the October incident, Ankara warned Moscow of "responsibility for any repercussions” if there is another incident with airspace violation. As a result, in mid-October, after three warnings, Turkish warplanes shot down an unidentified drone in its airspace near the Syrian border. And on November 24 Turkish F-16 aircraft downed an unidentified military aircraft at an altitude of 6000 meters. This “unidentified” jet turned to be the Russian Su-24.

The Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday saying the jet crashed in Syria (in the province of Latakia). At the same time, the ministry claimed that the Su-24 had not violated Turkish airspace. "AlThe plane was exclusively over the territory of Syria during flight mission. It is recorded by means of objective control," reads the statement.

However, the Western media quoted the Turkish military officials as saying that, before the Russian Su-24 was shot down, it was warned 10 times of violation of airspace. The audio clip with the said warning was released on Wednesday.

REUTERS
REUTERS

According to the ex-deputy chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Ihor Romanenko, there have been no cases, until Tuesday, when a NATO member state would took down A Soviet or Russian combat aircraft. "These planes were used by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Russians used them in the first and second Chechen wars. About three of them were shot down at that period.  But there was no such thing that a NATO member state would take down a Soviet or Russian military plane,” he said.

The expert believes it was Russia that provoked the incident, as there have already been several precedents in the Middle East of border violations by the Russian side. "In principle, the Russians would engage in such provocations around the world: the Baltic, the Mediterranean Sea… Well, here they’ve got what they deserved," said Romanenko.

Reactions

Initially, the Kremlin responded rather sluggishly. The president's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that it was too early to talk about deterioration in Russia-Turkey relations until the situation was fully clarified. "It would be wrong today to give any evaluation, assumptions, make any conclusions before we have a complete picture," he said.

According to him, "there is a sense in being patient": "This is, indeed, a very serious incident, but, once again, without having full information, it’s simply impossible to say anything, and it would be wrong."

Vladimir Putin has commented on the incident with the Su-24 / www.epa.eu/nv.ua
Vladimir Putin has commented on the incident with the Su-24 / www.epa.eu/nv.ua

A bit later, his boss, Vladimir Putin, was far less restrained in assessing the situation. According to him, the downing of the Russian Su-24 on the Syrian-Turkish border is  “a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists.” He went on to say that the Russian jet was downed despite the fact that Russia “signed an agreement on deconflicting with the U.S., and as we know Turkey was among the ones that has joined the U.S. coalition.”

And instead of immediately getting in contact with us, as far as we know, the Turkish side immediately turned to their partners from NATO to discuss this incident, as if we shot down their plane and not they ours. What, do they want to place NATO at the service of ISIL?" he said, somewhat hysterically.

At the same time, according to Putin, the Su-24 was shot down by an air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16, when it was one kilometer away from the border with Turkey; it fell on the Syrian territory 4km into the Syrian territory.

The State Duma of the Russian Federation echoed the Russian leader on the issue. Vice-Speaker Mykola Levichev said: "At a time when the international community starts a full-fledged fight against terrorism, spread by ISIS in Syria, Turkey shows solidarity with terrorists and shoots down our aircraft over the territory of Syria," he said.

At this, Levichev noted that this act "can be compared to the attack on another Russian plane in the sky over the Sinai."

"Now that there is an obvious link between Ankara and ISIS, we need to minimize the threat to our citizens in Turkey. For this, it is advisable to suspend air communication with this country, and to evacuate Russian citizens there," Russian MP said going deeper into the conspiracy jungle.

In turn, the Turkish Government immediately called an extraordinary meeting of NATO council following the incident. However, NATO's reaction to the incident was clear in advance. A month ago, U.S. ambassador to the organization Pour Douglas, he said that the Alliance will support Turkey by all means available if the country is attacked. However, he said that Turkey’s Air Force is able to protect national security and personally handle the Russian warplanes flying over the Turkish territory.

For Turkey's actions the ones responsible will be… the Russians

Quite traditionally, the first to be affected by the incident will be the Russian citizens. The government has in fact banned its tourists from travelling to Turkey, thus "punish" Turkey for downed aircraft. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the level of terrorist threat in Turkey is not lower than that in Egypt. "The critical mass of terrorist activities on Turkish territory is not less than that in Egypt, according to our estimates. In this regard, we surely do not recommend our citizens to visit the Turkish Republic as tourists or with any other purpose," he said.

However, according to the top Russian diplomat, the "recommendation" for the Russians was announced "without regard to the incident, which happened today."

REUTERS
REUTERS

The idea was actively picked up by the Federation Council and the State Duma. While the safety of Russian citizens in Turkey is not backed by a law, the travel agencies rushed to implement the recommendations of the Foreign Ministry. Moreover, Russia’s tourism regulator, Rosturizm, had issued the corresponding order the night before. "Rosturizm believes that provision of services for the organization of travel of Russian tourists to Turkey amid terrorist threat is a flagrant violation of the laws of the Russian Federation and entails holding the perpetrators liable,” reads the statement.

The officials advised tourist agencies "to suspend promotion and sale of tourist products, as well as individual tourist services" in Turkey, including via third countries. As a result, the sale of tours to Turkey was halted starting November 25 by Russia’s largest tour operators - TEZ Tour, Natalie Tours, Coral Travel, Pegas Touristik….

Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia’s veterinary inspection service, has also stood up in defense of the Russians from the "insidious Turkey," and the Turkish products. It banned the imports of six batches of chicken meat from Turkey (over 162 tonnes). The official reason for the restriction was the alleged discovery of potentially harmful bacteria. Rosselkhoznadzor went on to ban all poultry meat supplies from Turkey starting December 1. This group of products that had been delivered before that date will be subject to an enhanced laboratory testing, according to the agency.

"That is, Russia decided to punish Turkey, but not with the decreased amount of oil tankers moving through the Bosporus, not with the rejection of the idea of South Stream pipeline construction, and not with the rejection of a nuclear power plant construction... The Russian government resolves its geopolitical problems at the expense of ordinary citizens. And we must admit that the Russian citizens are worth it," said the former Consul General of Ukraine in Istanbul and Edinburgh, head of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs foundation, Bohdan Yaremenko.

Geopolitical Consequences

At the same time, he said that the incident with the Su-24 will push to the escalation of the situation between Turkey and Russia. "I think that this situation clearly demonstrates whether Russia can be whoever’s partner at all. Russia will keep protesting, demanding investigation, trying to shift the blame on Turkey, but the fact remains - Turkey had warned about the repercussions of airspace violations numerous times and at all possible levels," he said.

REUTERS
REUTERS

According to the diplomat, it can’t be completely ruled out that the Russians were "testing" Turkey’s anti-aircraft systems, while Turkish Air Force did everything right, shooting down the violator, regardless of Russia’s further reaction.

In turn, the military expert, director of military programs at the Razumkov Center, Mykola Sungurovsky, recalls that Russia is trying to create a coalition in Syrian crisis. Moreover, it is trying to declare its dominance in the coalition, by resorting to this kind of provocations probing determination of other global players. "This position shows that Putin is neither going to step back, nor retreat, and make concessions. The Western leaders should build their position with that in mind. If there is no retreat, there can be no retreat over sanctions, either," he stressed.

In turn, Ihor Romanenko said that the incident with the Russian Su-24 can become an impetus for updating the algorithm of Russia’s presence in Syria.

However, experts believe that, to date, there are no objective reasons for the Russia-NATO escalation, because it is difficult to regard the incident as an attack on NATO member states. "It is possible that Russian warplanes will be less brazen at the Turkish border," says political analyst Taras Chornovil.

Ukrainian issue

"Ukraine's position rests on the idea that what is worse for Russia is better Ukraine,” said Ihor Romanenko. “Of course, it doesn’t cover everything, and it’s not so categorical, but that’s a general assumption." In this context, the deeper the Russians get bogged down in the Middle East, the capabilities and resources the Kremlin will have in Donbas, he believes.

REUTERS
REUTERS

However, experts agree that the incident at the Turkish-Syrian border will not directly affect the situation in Ukraine. "The impact of this incident on the situation Ukraine will be indirect - the world sees once again, whether cooperation with Russia is possible whatsoever, even on the issues where it seem impossible to ignore [the Kremlin]," says Bohdan Yaremenko.

"After repeated warnings, the Russian aircraft did not stop violations of the airspace, so the F-16s spoke in a language that the Kremlin understands. Because it's one thing to bomb peaceful Syrian cities and kill women and children, and another thing is to try to approach NATO airspace," said the deputy head of the Ukrainian Parliament, former Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Andriy Parubiy.

He opines that in the current situation the world began to speak the only language the Kremlin understands. According to the Ukrainian official, Ukraine has long warned that Russia only understands the language of force; that "the Kremlin will only stop where it will be stopped." "It was done by thousands of our guys on the eastern front, who punched the occupier in the teeth. Unfortunately, it cost the lives of Ukraine’s best sons ... Today, the Air Force of the NATO member state took down the Russian Su-24 bomber. No more warnings. The story about “being lost” didn’t go well," he said.

The official believes that this is the best illustration of the idea that "Ukraine should be part of NATO."

And in the current situation it is getting more difficult to imagine - even for the Russian TV journalists - that the West will swap Ukraine for cooperation with Russia in the Middle East.

Kostyantyn Honcharov

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