President Barack Obama’s meeting with France President Francois Hollande has probably gotten a bit more interesting after reports indicate Turkey shot down a Russian Sukhoi-24 bomber. Details are a little sketchy and depends on the source, but what’s known for sure is the jet was near Turkey’s border with Syria when it was shot down. Reuters and Fox News provide the Turkish side of the story.
Turkish F16s warned the jet over the airspace violations before shooting it down, the military official told Reuters.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has spoken with the chief of military staff and the foreign minister about the developments on the Syrian border, the prime minister’s office said in a statement, without mentioning the downed jet.
He has ordered the foreign ministry to consult with NATO, the United Nations and related countries on the latest developments, his office said.
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) November 24, 2015
Russia’s version of what happened was originally different and more vague. Here’s Russia Today’s roundup, which was posted shortly after the plane was downed.
A Russian Su-24 fighter has been shot down in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding the plane hadn’t violated Turkish airspace and was flying at an altitude of 6,000 meters.
“Today an aircraft from the Russian Air Force in the Syrian Arab Republic crashed in Syria supposedly shot down from the ground,” the ministry said in a statement.
The pilots managed to eject, the ministry said, adding their fate is as yet unknown.
“During the flight, the aircraft was flying only within the borders of Syria. That was registered by objective monitoring data,”the ministry added.
But a couple hours later, one of Russia Today’s TV shows tweeted this.
— IN THE NOW (@INTHENOWRT) November 24, 2015
For the record, Syrian rebels say they captured and killed one rebel
One of 2 Russian pilots is dead. Russian helicopters tried to evacuate both of them but were shot at from the ground https://t.co/zIyUy2ueGN
— Yury Barmin (@yurybarmin) November 24, 2015
Vladimir Putin is supposed to comment on this at some point and who knows what he’ll say. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to find out Russia violated Turkey’s airspace, even if it was an accident. But it would be interesting if it turned out the Turkish F-16’s opened fire on the Russian plane while it was over Syria. It’s not the first time Turkey has gone after something violating its airspace. The Turkish military took out a drone which ended up going into the country last month. No one has said who that drone belongs to, but the Turkish government claims it was made in Russia. BBC News also reported a Russian jet had to be told to turn around after wandering into Turkey and a Mig-29 caused some issues for Turkish jets.
This could have serious consequences for Obama’s meeting with Hollande. The French president is hoping to press the U.S. to team up with Russia against ISIS in Syria and ignore the fact Bashar Assad is still in power. The downing of the Russian jet by Turkey’s Air Force gives Obama an excuse to rebuff Hollande, on the idea Russia can’t be trusted. Turkey is a member of NATO, as is France and America. Obama could try to turn the tables on Hollande (not that I expect him to) by saying France has to support Turkey, not Russia because of NATO. Remember, Hollande is headed to Russia in a couple days to discuss strategy against ISIS. The U.S. might try to get Hollande to call the meeting off due to what happened. That puts France in the interesting position of deciding whether it wants to listen to Obama or say “screw it” and go work with Russia. Stephen Cohen at The Nation certainly thinks that might be a possibility.
European-Russian political detente will almost certainly follow, but…uncertainties remain. European leadership in regard to Russia may now shift to Hollande from German Chancellor Merkel, whose own leadership is in growing crisis due to her policies toward Greece, Ukraine and the Middle Eastern refugees flooding the European continent. Europe’s economic sanctions on Russia due to Ukraine remain, but for how long?
It would really be interesting to see if Europe decides to run to the Bear for help and ignores the U.S. This partially shows why it was foolish for the U.S. and Europe to try to get involved in Syria to begin with. When you think about it, the Syrian refugee crisis really didn’t start until Europe and the U.S. decided it was going to back the rebels. That caused fighting to start ramping up in the civil war and the refugees had no place to go but West and into Turkey, then Europe. If the West had decided to not get involved, then it’s likely the refugee problem would have stayed local to the Middle East. Here’s the UN’s graph showing how things started rising right around the time the West got involved.
This is unfortunately showing what happens when countries get involved in things they shouldn’t have. But hindsight is always 20/20. What happened today is definitely adding intrigue to the Obama-Hollande summit, and whether Obama will try to twist Hollande’s arm and vice versa. Turkey’s response to this is also going to be something to watch. If they keep pressing NATO and the UN to hold hearings on this, it might end up forcing the U.S. and Russia to talk more. It just kind of depends what happens in the next few days. International politics is fun isn’t it?
UPDATE: (Jazz) This story will be developing for a while. Obviously I have a different take on the politics of the situation than Taylor does, but this certainly holds the potential to change the stance of the various partners involved in the fight against ISIS and Asad’s position in the power structure. The Turks don’t really recognize that border all that much because they consider the Syrian Turkmen to be their kin and have always stood by them as ethnic Turks. In addition to the Turkmen, the area where the plane went down is infested with Nusra Front fighters, complicating things all the more. The fate of the Russian pilots was still unconfirmed but if one of them is dead it’s going to heat up the situation.
One wonky but possibly interesting aspect of this story is that the Turks seemed to have little or no trouble taking out one of Russia’s Sukhoi-24s with an F-16. I’m not knocking the Falcon in any way shape for form here, but we do have another advanced generation of fighters now, so if the Sukhoi-24 is that vulnerable it sends a message about the readiness of Russia’s air power.
We’ll probably have more updates to this story later today.