Covert Goals behind Turkey’s Military Behavior vis-à-vis Russia

Friday, December 4, 2015

Masoud Rezaei, Ph.D. in International Relations &
Visiting Research Fellow at the the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies

Last week, Turkey downed a Russian Sukhoi bomber plane over Syria. This important incident has had no precedent by one of the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against Russia during past decades. Therefore, many questions have been raised about reasons that would justify this act of war on the part of Turkey. In most cases, apart from mentioning possible violation of Turkey’s airspace, answers given to those questions pertain to Syria, where Russia has been actively bombarding the positions of Daesh and other terrorist groups in the past two months, thus creating both rage and bewilderment on the part of Turkey, because its airstrikes have somehow tilted the balance of power and forces in favor of the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and its allies. Turkey has suffered heavy political, economic and security costs in Syria over the past four years, whose outcome for Ankara has been nothing but “mere tension” with neighboring countries and escalation of insecurity across the region. but why this incident actually took place?

On June 22, 2012, the Syrian army shot down an F-4 Phantom II fighter jet belonging to Turkey’s Air Force after it entered the Syrian airspace. Some analysts, however, believe that Russia was actually behind that military action and the Turkish plane was shot down by a laser-guided Russian missile fired from a Russian warship off Syria’s Latakia port city. Taking this issue into account, one can claim that during the past two months, Russia’s involvement in Syria has simply entered a new phase, because in fact, Russians have been actively present in Syria’s security environment during the past three years and have been in control of Syria’s missile force. This means, both surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles of Syria have been under Russia’s control.

Therefore, downing of the Russian plane by Turkey can be considered as Ankara’s answer to what happened in 2012. The important issue, however, is about the present juncture and its complexities at a time when all international attention is focused on Daesh and a consensus has been reached among the international community to defeat this terrorist outfit following recent terror attacks in Paris, which aroused sympathy of the entire world with France. Naturally, the West has been aware of the role that Turkey plays in supporting Daesh terrorist group, and after the terror attacks in Paris, Daesh and its main supporter, that is, Turkey, would be given less latitude to act. Therefore, this incident could potentially change the position of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu from supporters of Daesh to victims of the violation of the country’s airspace. Apart from this speculation, there are two general hypotheses about Turkey’s military behavior toward Russia:

1) According to the first hypothesis, Turkey’s measure has been taken in coordination with the United States and NATO because otherwise, this country would not be able to show its power at this level and demonstrate such adventurous behavior.

2) The second hypothesis has it that Turkey took this step independently and without informing the West, and has relied on itself when taking this decision – though being a member of NATO, Turkey has been sure about later support and alliance of the United States and other NATO members in case of the escalation of the crisis and a subsequent response by Russia.

According to the first opinion, Turkey has made a blatant strategic mistake. In 2008, Georgia embarked on vast military operations in the semi-autonomous South Ossetia region banking on the West’s promise of support, in which a number of Russian border guards were killed. While the world was speculating about the way that Russia would choose to answer this move, Russia’s reaction was, unlike general expectations of the world people, very tough and hard. Russians not only took South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions out of Georgia’s control, but advanced as far as 35 kilometer from the country’s capital city, Tbilisi. Of course, Turkey cannot be compared with Georgia, but at least, the point that can be taken into consideration here is that in the case of Georgia, although the United States and Europe had initially encouraged the country to take action against Russia, they simply withdrew their support later and sufficed to diplomatic maneuvering. It seems that officials in Ankara do not see any importance and historical lesson in this incident. Therefore, and based on this experience, what Turkey has done is a basic mistake.

Based on the second opinion, Turkey’s measure in shooting down the Russian fighter jet has been taken with an independent motivation. The reason, perhaps was that Turkey intended through this measure to get NATO and the United States involved in Syria, so that, the international aspect of the Syrian issue would be further highlighted and the role of Russia in Syria would be redefined as a “new big game” and within framework of Russia’s confrontation with NATO. Accepting this hypothesis, this would be the third time that Turkey has adopted such a policy in the course of Syria crisis. A more serious case was when a chemical attack killed more than 1,000 people near Syrian capital, Damascus, on August 21, 2013. At that time, Turkey made great efforts to draw an analogy between the situation in Syria and the case of Kosovo, which was followed by the Western countries’ humanitarian intervention, in order to repeat the scenario that had previously unfolded in Libya through recourse to principle of responsibility to protect. However, due to various reasons, including opposition of the Western countries’ parliaments, as well as effective measures taken by Iran and Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118, Turkey’s efforts were rendered ineffective.

In fact, Russia has been always seen by the West as a powerful actor and a challenging power pole and has enabled NATO to use its purported threat in order to justify its existence following the Cold War. Here, it once again seems that Turkey has been mistaken in its calculations. The crisis in Ukraine is a good case in point in this regard. Russia annexed part of Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula, to its own soil last year. The answer given to this measure by the West, however, was not military intervention, but they took diplomatic measures in the form of expelling Russia from G8 group of countries and imposing sanctions on Moscow. Of course, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but compared with Turkey, it is closer to European and the United States calculations in ideological and religious terms. Therefore, under these conditions, when the United States and Europe have not been willing to enter into outright confrontation with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, how they can be expected to enter into a conflict with Russia over Turkey? And this seems truer when considering that the US President Barack Obama and his European allies have been experiencing some form of disillusionment in the Middle East and do not want to open a new front against Russia.

Therefore, the attack on Russian bomber plane could be considered as a reaction to Turkey’s recent failures in Syria. Turkey pursues three major goals through its military action against Russia. On the one hand, it is trying to show those countries, which oppose its policy in Iraq and Syria that their measures will not go unanswered and they will have to pay a price for those measures. Secondly, Ankara aims to boost the morale of its allied groups in Syria in order not to lose hope in their achievements in the proxy war that they are waging. Thirdly, and most importantly, Turkey is willing to expand its dispute with Russia in Syria into a dispute between the West and Russia. The third goal is in line with the same strategy that Turkey expected to get Russia in its trap. The main challenge facing Russia at present is to beat this strategy. As a result, a hard, hasty, and emotional reaction from Moscow to downing of its warplane, would be exactly the same thing that Turks are looking for.

Key Words: Turkey, Military Behavior, Russia, Covert Goals, Sukhoi Bomber Plane, Syria, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Strategic Mistake, Proxy War, Ukraine, Europe, The United States, West, Rezaei

Source: Shargh Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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