Russian scenarios to respond to Turkey’s downing Russian warplane

Alwaght- A Turkish F-16 fighter shot down a Russian Sukhoi SU-24 fighter jets which killed one of the Russian co-pilots and the other one was captured by Syrian armed Turkmen sponsored  by Turkey. These events could have very important effects on future developments in the West Asia, especially in Syria. In the first reaction, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that Russia would surely respond to the move.

Vladimir Putin also claimed that shooting down Russia’s plane “represents a stab in the back.” Now we may wonder how Russia is going to react. Could the same interaction and shooting down a Turkish fighter aircraft by Russia end the dispute? Is Moscow going to tolerate its humiliation by Turkey, and keep silence about his fighter being shot sown? To what extent is it likely that the Kremlin may take the risk of armed conflict with Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)? What are the repercussions of the event in the regional and international level? These are the questions that we will discuss in the following lines, in the framework of three scenarios.

Statement of the event

Without a doubt, Turkey has the right to defend its territorial sovereignty. But the complexity of the problem lies in the fact that before this event, the Russian fighters had entered several kilometers into the Turkish airspace, but no action was taken by the Turkish air defenses. In the mid time, according to the reports, the Russian aircraft entered the Turkish airspace only for a few seconds and as the Russian military authorities claim, the Sukhoi SU-24 warplane was targeted 4 km inside the Syrian borders.

Most importantly, the Turkmen military forces sponsored by Turkey, attacked the Russian co-pilots who had ejected to save their lives by parachute, and killed one of them and captured the other. Now Putin and the Russian military officials are deeply nervous about the incident and insisted the event would seriously damage the Ankara-Moscow relations and the Russian would surely respond to the move.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the first day of the event, held an emergency meeting with military commanders and security organization of Turkey (MIT) to discuss the issue. There is no doubt that Ankara perceives the importance of the issue and knows what important consequences it may have. In the first step, Turkey informed the NATO members and Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish Prime Minister highlighted the Turkey’s right to defend its territorial sovereignty. The latest diplomatic developments also suggest that Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister has said that the Russian would reconsider their relations with Turkey.

Lavrov has reiterated the downing of the Russian jet did not appear spontaneous, but more “like a planned provocation”. But Putin had the strongest reactions in an interview with TASS New Agency, in which he had warned the United States to harness its dog, i.e., Turkey. Undoubtedly, Russia will react to recent events, and the Russian response to the recent events can bring about serious changes in the current equations dealing with Turkey. The options available for Moscow can be summarized in a few scenarios that each of them can bring about far-reaching changes in current developments in the West Asia. The most important options available for Moscow are:

1. Direct regional competition to weaken the position of Turkey in the West Asia region:

One of the most likely actions of Russia is to put pressure on Ankara, to shelve Turkey’s plan for creating a safe zone in northern Syria. The safe zone that Turkey wishes to create in northern Syria is 90 km long and 50 km wide which includes an area between the towns of Jarabulus and A’zaz (in the northern governorate of Aleppo, between the two Kurdish Cantons of Kobani and Afrin). On the one hand, Russia can equip and support the Kurdish forces especially the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), so that they can make advances from Kobani to western regions, and help the Kurds easily join together three Cantons of Jazira, Kobani and Afrin.

If these three Kurdish Cantons are joined together, Ankara will actually lose a major part of the communication roads with the Free Liberation Army forces and his other friendly armed groups.

This way, more than 80 percent of the Turkish borders with Syria would be in full control of the Kurds. If this happens, Turkey will fully lose contact with the Arab borders as the Kurdish border will cut off its southern borders, and Turkey would have to put up with a Kurdistan that is free from geopolitical blockade. This would be a strategic defeat for Turkey, as this would cut off a major part of Turkey’s support corridor to Free Syrian Army forces; therefore, Turkey will have to go a long way from Turkey to Idlib and then Aleppo so that it can support the groups it is sponsoring.

On the other hand, Russia can increase its attacks in Aleppo and areas between Idlib, and Latakia, the regions in Syria adjacent to Turkey, and pave the way for the victory of the forces of the Syrian central government over Jaish al-Fatah forces, i.e., the forces supported by the triangle of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. In this way, Moscow can create a serious security risk for Turkey, especially in border areas of Idlib and Latakia (Jabal al-Akrad) that are located near the Antioch of Turkey. In this situation, the widespread presence of Russian warplanes in the region, will remove any possibility of any serious military operations by Turkish army.

In continuation of this scenario, it should be added that Russia would make attempts to counter any recurrence of this event. Russia took the first step a day after its warplane was targeted by Turkey. As President Vladimir Putin issued an order to deploy advanced S-400 missile defense system in a military base in Syria; and this could increase the risk of military conflict between Moscow and Turkey. However, we did not mean a full scale war, but a defensive military posture or an armed peace that will allow both parties to change their behavior towards further tensions.

2. To seriously support and sponsor domestic Turkish opposition groups (PKK and Fethullah Gülen Movement)

Another possible scenario available for Russia is to support the playing cards of national actors in Turkey. Regional and trans-regional powers would provoke and support domestic movements to undermine the rival government in regional and international competitions. Effective minority of the Kurds in Turkey, which has a military background, based on the theory of cards, can place pressure on Turkey.

Russia would seek to strengthen the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) against Turkey, and also as a leverage against Turkey. To provide weapons and financial support for PKK forces in current state of tension between the army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, can change the internal balance to the detriment of the government and society in Turkey, and heighten the internal insecurity.

The consequences of this insecurity will be evident on Turkish economy. In this situation, Russia may take revenge on the Turkish government, as it can equip the PKK in the Kandil Mountains and equip them to intensify their attacks against aircrafts over the mountainous region of Qandil rather than engaging in a direct combat. This scenario which has a long history in the international relations of governments, is the most likely response to the recent incidents happened to Russian Sukhoi SU-24.

On the other hand, to place a full-scale pressure against Turkey, the Russian government may provide physical and spiritual support for Gülen movement that opposes to the AKP. Supporters of this movement working in most departments and agencies, are considered a threat to the Islam of the Justice and Development Party. Intensified activism and influence of the Gülen movement on Turkish community can lead to conflicts between the fundamentalist movements and supporters of the ruling party and supporters of Gülen. This could engage the government in a series of critical internal tensions provoked by supporters of Gülen and the Kurds in the Qandil mountains.

3. Soft threats, hard pressure

We consider this scenario as a multi-dimensional pressure and Russia’s soft power against Turkey. In this scenario, the major pressure is on lifeline of the country namely the political, diplomatic and economic dimensions of the country. As to the diplomatic dimension, the reaction of Russia could be traced in speech made by Russian Foreign Minister. As the Russian jet was shot down by Turkey, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister canceled his predetermined journey to Turkey and stated that Russia would reconsider its policies towards Turkey, and Turkey may not expect to have the same political relations with Russia as before.

As to the economic dimension, it should be noted that Turkey has a considerable turnover with Russia, every year about 30 billion dollar Turkish products are exported to Russia, which was supposed to reach 50 billion dollars per year. In the first place, Russia can prevent an increase in the volume of imports from Turkey, and in the final step it may reduce the volume of imports to the lowest possible level. Turkey is one of the major importers of Russian gas, and this year it may experience a hard winter, if the European sanctions against Russia over Ukraine crisis are lifted, this would be a punitive action, and could temporary be a threat for Turkey. However, as the European sanctions against Russia are extended until January next year, Russia would also have a difficult decisions to make.

Exchange with ISIS has been one of the illegitimate financial source of income for the Turkish government. As the documents related to such cooperation and exchanges are leaked, criticisms are leveled at the Turkish government. Now that the disputes between Russia and Turkey have arisen, Russia may take urgent measures against Turkey about the exchanges between the ISIS and Turkey. In this regard, Russia will attempt to increase airstrikes against transport fleet in ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and Iraq to strike a blow on trade between ISIS and Turkey. Oil and its derivatives, antiquities and stolen parts from the factories, the sale of body parts are among the most important goods in this trade, while the main profits of this business go to some individuals and institutions in Turkey.

In addition to the above sources, Turkish tourism industry has been one of the main sources of income for the country. The financial turnover of tourism from Russia to Turkey has been about 4 billion dollars. After attack of Turkey-backed Turkmens against the Russian warplane, the Russian government asked its own nationals not to travel to Turkey. Given the fact that the Russian government could prevent its nationals from traveling to Turkey, Turkey’s tourism industry may lose a major part of this 4 billion dollar that Russian tourists bring into the Turkish economy every year.

But another soft war that Russia launched hours after the Russian Sukhoi SU-24 was shot down, was the disclosure of documents about the corruption of the figures and the children of the ruling leaders and those close to the Turkish government. One of the revelations against the ruling party leader and his family was aired from the ‘Russia 24 TV’ of Moscow. This series of revelations included audio recordings of telephone conversations of Erdogan and his sons, when they gave the command for transfer of the money to a secure place as well as pictures of the meetings between Bilal, son of Erdogan and heads the ISIS terrorist group.

Russia always threatened to disclose the documents of collaboration between Turkey and the ISIS. The most serious threat to disclose such documents about Turkey’s collaboration with the ISIS, was made by Putin in the summit of the heads of states in G-20 in this month, in which he claimed the states sponsoring the ISIS are present among the countries attending the Summit.

By Alwaght

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