Ankara’s ‘Provocation’

The downing of the Russian airplane by Turkish fighter jets was not an incident that came about through chance, but because [Russian] pilots violated Turkey’s aerial space and did not leave despite the warnings. All the evidence and all the indications lead to the conclusion that this was an extreme, provocative act by Ankara to serve its goals in the region and inflame the climate of cooperation between the West and Russia, which had started forming after the events in Paris. It was obvious from the beginning of the crisis in Syria that Turkey is playing its own game with various goals — including aspirations for Syrian territories — but mainly because it cannot stand the possibility of the existence of a Kurdish state. And so, as of yesterday, the Syrian crisis has reached what seem to be new and very dangerous dimensions.

It is known that the relationship between Turkey and the Islamic State was, and still is, controversial. The facts and questions around the stance [of the Islamic State group] are too great in volume. It desired and still insists on the overthrowing of Assad, as it showed tolerance toward the jihadis and apparently, to a degree, used them to accelerate his fall; but it is also against the Kurds, who are the only reliable force (alongside Assad’s army) fighting on the ground against them. It is obvious that Turkey is maintaining a hidden economic exchange (oil) with them, and parallel to that, and for the same reasons, armed the Turks inside Syria. It is now clear that it’s determining the flow of refugees to apply pressure to European countries. All this in the context of an external policy of grandeur aimed at becoming a regional power with respectable influence from the Middle East up to the Caucasus, but also under great fear of the consequences of the establishment of a Kurdish state.

Undoubtedly, the fear around the establishment of a Kurdish state was amplified by the recognition that the USA, which provides military support to the Kurdish fighters through various means, desires this as well. But Turkey’s plans and behavior suffered two new, serious – maybe even definitive – shocks. The first was Russia’s decision for an immediate and active military involvement in Syria to support Assad’s regime. The other was the terrorist attacks by the jihadis in Paris, which brought Russia and the West closer together in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. Putin offered his cooperation; Hollande, who up until recently belonged to the “tough” Europeans in imposing sanctions against Russia about the Ukraine issue, not only accepted it but even pressured Washington to do the same. Just two days ago, American Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the USA could explore the possibility of military cooperation with Russia, as far as Syria is concerned, but not to the extent of supporting Assad. While in Paris, Sarkozy asked to lift the sanctions against Moscow.

Faced with these developments, and one day before Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was to visit Ankara, Turkey proceeded with the “provocation” — in the hope that Moscow’s reaction would be a furious one and that ΝΑΤΟ would rush to offer [Turkey] cover, in a practice undermining Russia’s and the West’s approach toward Syria. Putin’s reaction was verbally harsh indeed, but the first responses from the Western countries were not what Ankara was expecting, and now it remains to be seen how [the situation] progresses. Nevertheless, in all likelihood things will not reach extremes, much to the disappointment of the Turkish leadership, who will probably not get the cover they expected.

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