Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Russian Fighter Downed, Angry Putin Sends Strong Message to Turkey with ... Russian Fighter Downed, Angry Putin Sends Strong Message to Turkey with Missile Destroyer Moskva.

A Russia expert explains how Putin will likely respond to his downed plane Updated by Zack Beauchamp on November 24, 2015, 5:30 p.m. ET @zackbeauchamp On Tuesday, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that it says had crossed into its airspace from Syria. Though Russia denies it had violated Turkish airspace, Turkey has been complaining of such Russian violations ever since Russia began its military intervention in Syria this September. To understand why Russia might do this and how Moscow might respond to this incident, I called Mark Galeotti, a professor at NYU's Center for Global Affairs who focuses on Russia. He suggested that Russia could have been poking at NATO, as it has in the past, but also discussed some much deeper, and more important, issues in the Russia-Turkey relationship and Russia's military adventure in Syria. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity. Zack Beauchamp: Why would Russia fly into Turkey's airspace in the first place? Mark Galeotti: There are a few possible reasons. First is pilot error. They were operating near the border and so strayed over by mistake. It's unlikely, given modern avionics, but nonetheless we can't completely exclude the possibility. The second thing is that this could, since Turkey is a NATO state, have been Russia just trying to flex its political-diplomatic muscles. Wanting to make the point that they can do this with impunity — which, of course, they have done in NATO's northern reaches. The third possibility is that this was just a brief foray into Turkish airspace, and the bomber pilot was just setting up an attack run. And given that the Turks are actively supporting some pretty toxic rebel groups, it could have been that the target was just inside Turkish borders. That's the problem when you have a target-rich environment on both sides of the borderline. It's [also] worth noting that we heard that one of the two pilots was gunned down by rebels while parachuting down, which means that it's possible that it was in Syria. Nonetheless, the fact that the Russians are operating so close to the Turkish border in any case does say something about a certain arrogance and a certain brinksmanship. Zack Beauchamp: Speaking of brinksmanship: Immediately after the attack, Putin threatened "serious consequences" for the Turks after the plane went down. How seriously should we take his threat? Mark Galeotti: These days it's very hard to predict Putin. But I suspect Moscow is not keen to start yet another diplomatic war, let alone anything more than that. They're stuck in a quagmire in Ukraine. There's a very dangerous commitment to Syria. They have a whole series of international sanctions on them. What we're likely to see is some kind of symbolic act: maybe banning Turkish airliners from landing in Russian airports, some kind of economic sanctions, words with the Turkish ambassador, that kind of thing. [Ed. note: after this conversation, the Russian Ministry of Defense suspended military-to-military communications with its Turkish counterparts.] At the same time, they'll hope for there being even the faintest signs of contrition from Ankara, which would allow Putin to tell the Russian people that "the Turks messed up, the Turks have acknowledged that, we move on." Zack Beauchamp: So what is the Russian public reaction to this going to be? Mark Galeotti: The first indications are that there's a definite surge of public anger. They only know what the Kremlin is going to tell them, which is that this was a Turkish attack on a Russian plane over Syria while it was trying to bomb terrorist targets. All Putin's rhetoric about being stabbed in the back will have resonance, particularly because Russians — even more so than many other people — are very conscious of their history. Russia has a long pre-Soviet history of rivalry with the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and a sense that the Turks are not to be trusted, rooted in crude cultural stereotypes. But one has to realize that it's not as though they're demanding war: They can, to a large extent, be modulated and if need be distracted through the state controlled media. I don't think this is, in any meaningful sense, a constraint on the Kremlin. "TURKEY HAS — AT BEST — BEEN A FRENEMY TO MOSCOW" In Russia, the whole Syrian adventure has been played as "strike the terrorists in Syria before we have to fight them in Russia." It's been sold as an operation that's tremendously successful. You could argue with how effective the airstrikes are — let's be honest, the best the Russian airstrikes can do is slightly slow the rate at which Assad is losing the war; they won't turn the tide. But that's not how it's being sold in Moscow. Finally, it's been sold as a safe operation: no large ground troop commitments, the

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