Just as Americans prepared for Thanksgiving, so too did we hold our breath to see how Russia and the world would react to the November 24th downing of a Russian warplane. Alleging that it was flying in restricted airspace, Turkish military forces effectively shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border. Russia, vehemently contesting this accusation, alleges that the plane was indisputably shot down in Syrian airspace and condemns what Vladimir Putin has deemed to be an unmerited act of aggression.
While Turkish officials claim that the Russian aircraft was warned to alter its flightpath at least ten times in a five minute period, their Russian counterparts contend that the aircraft received no warnings; this contention was affirmed when the only surviving pilot reiterated it on Russian television, maintaining that he received no warnings before being shot down. Turkish and Russian officials similarly contest the crash-site of the plane, a detail which would better indicate where exactly it was flying.
Tensions between Russia and Turkey—despite Putin’s referring to Turkey as an ally—run deep. The most poignant recent manifestation of this divide can be seen in both country’s involvement in Syria, a nation ravaged by a civil war that has claimed at least 250,000 lives since March 2011 and which is a main proponent of the current Syrian refugee crisis. Russia backs Syrian president al-Assad, whereas Turkey backs rebel groups that oppose Assad.
NATO states such as Turkey have not shot down a Russian plane since the 1950’s. As Turkish officials have yet to officially apologize for downing the plane, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has not hesitated to retaliate, suspending the visa-free travel with Turkey and limiting Turkish imports—a move which could have potentially harmful effects on the global economy.
The United States is put in a real catch 22. Knee-deep in funding, energy, manpower, and rhetoric in the War on Terror, the United States is doing everything in its power to defeat ISIS. Both Turkey and Russia have been accused of indirectly hindering the United States in this mission. Turkey, more specifically, has been accused of engaging in unscrupulous oil-deals with the terrorist organization—oil being the main source of ISIS funding. And while Putin claims that Russia is strictly targeting anti-Assad opposition groups—of which ISIS is one—allegations have been made that Russia is targeting specific, Western-backed rebel groups rather than those they officially claim to target. While the validity of such allegations is questionable, mounting tensions will certainly have a significant impact on all countries with ties to Syria.
by Scott Newman ’17