In Multipolarity, Russia

By Alexander Mercouris, Sputnik News, Nov 25, 2015

The Turkish account of the shooting down of the Russian SU-24 makes no sense. The Turks claim they shot the SU-24 down after giving it 10 warnings over a period of five minutes that it was infringing Turkish airspace.

Russian air force base in western Syria (RT)

Russian air force base in western Syria (RT)

The data the Turks have themselves provided however show the SU24 infringed Turkish airspace for no more than a couple of seconds. This is impossible to reconcile with ten warnings given over a period of five minutes. The SU24 crashed well within Syrian territory. That, too, makes the Turkish claim it was shot down whilst violating Turkish airspace unlikely.

The Russians, of course, deny the SU-24 was in Turkish airspace at all. Even the facts claimed by Turkey make the shoot down looks unjustified.

If the SU-24 was inside Turkish airspace for a few seconds — as the Turks themselves say — and was returning to its base — as it clearly was — then it posed no threat to Turkey and there was no cause to shoot it down.

The Turks sense they are in a weak position. Their actions prove it. Instead of denouncing Russia, they soft pedaled as if trying to play down the incident. By contrast, the Russians have responded vigorously, with President Putin condemning Turkey for “a stab in the back”.

The Turks have also made a dash for NATO support.

As I said in an interview I gave Sputnik, this looks like an attempt to get cover from Turkey’s Western allies before the Russians come after the Turks with their questions.

In the event — as I also predicted in my interview for Sputnik — the support Turkey has received from its Western allies has been less than resounding.  All the talk coming out of Western capitals has been of the need for restraint. Threats and warnings against Russia and words of support for Turkey have so far been notably absent.

This undoubtedly reflects widespread unease about Turkey’s conduct and widespread acceptance that it was not Russia that infringed Turkish airspace, but Turkey which infringed Syrian airspace by shooting down the SU24 inside Syria.

Why did Turkey shoot down the SU24? It is unlikely Turkey acted with Washington’s prior permission. Those who think so seriously underestimate the whimsical nature of Turkey’s Syrian policy, which Washington is more concerned to restrain than encourage. The restrained language coming out of Washington does not suggest U.S. involvement.

It is possible the incident was an accident caused by aggressive Turkish pilots exceeding their orders.

The way the SU24 was shot down, however, points to an ambush, which suggests pre-planning and the involvement of Turkey’s political leadership. The Turks might be trying to protect the local jihadi groups they have sponsored, especially as some of them in the area are Turkish speaking.

It could also be that the Turks wanted to provoke a crisis with Russia that would cause their Western allies to unite behind them.  They might think that that is the only way to rescue their regime-change Syrian policy.

Most likely, the incident simply reflects anger and injured pride. Some Turkish leaders feel humiliated at the way Russia has turned the tables on Turkey in Syria. This might be their way of — as they see it — getting their own back.

If something like this had happened to a U.S. aircraft, the air would now be thick with demands for vengeance. Fortunately Russia’s response — though strong — will be more measured.

There will be a severe cooling of relations, which will hurt Turkey’s economy which depends heavily on Russia. However, the Russians’ immediate priority will be the safety of their strike force in Syria.

Now that it is clear it is threatened by the Turkish air force the Russians may decide it needs to be strengthened it with more interceptor aircraft and surface to air missiles.

There has been much debate about whether Russia might deploy advanced aircraft like the MIG31BM or sophisticated surface-to-air missiles like the S300 and the S400 to Syria. Turkey’s recklessness in shooting down a Russian SU24 has just made that far more likely. Should that happen, Ankara will get no thanks in Washington or in Jerusalem.

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