The effort to build a grand coalition to fight ISIS has resulted in at least one form of effective aggression, but it’s not aimed at the terrorist quasi-state. After Turkey’s air force shot down a Russian fighter that had violated its airspace, resulting in the death of the pilot and one of the Russians trying to rescue him, Russia has demanded an apology from Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, who patently refuses to give one. Russia has now opened a series of economic measures designed to punish Turkey, and is threatening to pull out of the anti-ISIS coalition:
Russia threatened economic retaliation against Turkey on Thursday and said it was still awaiting a reasonable explanation for the shooting down of its warplane, but Turkey dismissed the threats as “emotional” and “unfitting.”
In an escalating war of words, President Tayyip Erdogan responded to Russian accusations that Turkey has been buying oil and gas from Islamic State in Syria by accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers, which include Moscow, of being the real source of the group’s financial and military power. …
Earlier, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered his government to draw up measures that would include freezing some joint investment projects and restricting food imports from Turkey.
Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said Moscow could put limits on flights to and from Turkey, halt preparations for a joint free trade zone, and restrict high-profile projects including the TurkStream gas pipeline and a $20 billion nuclear power plant Russia is building in Turkey.
Russia’s defense ministry meanwhile said it had suspended all cooperation with the Turkish military, including a hotline set up to share information on Russian air strikes in Syria, the TASS news agency reported.
Needless to say, Vladimir Putin is not in a conciliatory mood:
However, Erdogan wasn’t exactly in the mood to retreat, either, dismissing Putin’s demands as “emotional,” and warning Putin “not to play with fire” in his attempt to push Turkey around:
Also on Thursday, Erdogan underscored the complex military landscape in Syria, where a sprawling cast of countries and rebel groups are engaged on the battlefield and in the skies overhead, sometimes with minimal coordination.
He accused Russia of using its declared goal to fight ISIS group in Syria as a pretext to target opposition groups including the Turkmen, in order to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad.
He also challenged Russia to prove its accusation that Turkey is buying oil and gas from ISIS, calling the claims “shameful” and even pledging to step down if the claim is proven.
“This is a great disrespect to Turkey and those who make the claims are slanderers,” he said. “If they prove it, Tayyip Erdogan would step down.”
Putin responded to this by showing surveillance photos of oil tankers entering Turkey, allegedly from ISIS, and suggested that maybe Erdogan was either too incompetent or corrupt to know it.
In other words, there doesn’t appear to be much of an opening for a rapprochement at the moment, but Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu is working on it. According to CNN, Davutoglu’s first task is to get Erdogan and Putin to stop talking so much:
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, often characterized as the friendly face of his government, published a conciliatory essay Friday in the Times of London.
Davutoglu said the shooting down by Turkey this week “was not — and is not — an act against a specific country.”
“While the measures to defend our territory will remain in place, Turkey will work with Russia and our allies to calm tensions,” Davutoglu wrote.
If Turkey and Russia are at odds, the essay said, the winner will be the terrorist group ISIS, also known as Daesh.
“This is the time to stand firm against Daesh,” Davotoglu said. “Collective action that harnesses the varying strengths of the US, the EU, Russia, Turkey and others can, and will, turn the tide.”
It’s the time to stand firm against ISIS, but that’s the problem with everyone in the coalition. All of the members have other priorities in this fight than standing firm against ISIS, primarily the status of Bashar al-Assad. Russia wants Assad left in place, France leans in that direction, and the US and Turkey have made it clear that they want him out. In fact, the US and Turkey insist that ISIS can’t be defeated until Assad agrees to leave, while Russia insists that Assad is necessary to restore stability and squeeze out ISIS — and there are elements of truth in both positions. Beyond that, there is also the designs Russia and Iran have on Syria as a client state and proxy in the region, and the competing interests the EU and US have in both commercial and security arenas.
Under those circumstances, there isn’t much potential for a grand alliance to function on anything but a temporary and tactical level. Blend all of this together with the predilection of Russian pilots for pulling provocative stunts around the borders and naval assets of its rivals, and you end up with a combustible mix that produces exactly this kind of outcome. Had the US, or the US and the EU, dealt with ISIS when the DIA first started sounding the alarm in 2012, Russia could have been kept out of the equation entirely. Instead, the West dithered, primarily because Barack Obama needed to sustain the illusion that his withdrawal from Iraq was a total success. Now we have a much bigger mess, and Russia and Iran dictating outcomes. This can be described as many things, but smart power is not one of them.