On Tuesday the world yet again got a glimpse of the complexities of the ongoing war in Syria. A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 jet, which was patrolling the Syrian-Turkish border, was shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter, for allegedly violating Turkish airspace. Following this, tensions have escalated between Moscow and Ankara, which should be on the same side of the war against the Islamic State (IS). Turkey’s action has precipitated the rifts among nations fighting the IS and has shifted the spotlight from the terror group to the differences between Russia and the West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described Turkey as an “accomplice of terrorists” and its actions as a “stab in the back”. Given that nations fighting the IS are struggling to find common ground, thereby failing to check the terrorists, there is a kernel of truth in Mr Putin’s words.
As expected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday defended his actions and said that “no one should expect us to remain silent when our border security and our sovereignty are being violated”. This is a bit rich coming from him, especially since Turkey has not shown a similar alacrity in checking funds, recruits and weapons for the terror groups flowing into Syria since 2011.
Just when nations were coming together after the 13/11 Paris attacks to fight terror, Turkey’s actions have the potential to seriously derail that fragile unity. Nato, by extending ‘solidarity’ to its ally, has not helped in this process but has jumped at the opportunity to oppose Russia. United States President Barack Obama’s statement that the downing of the Su-24 jet “points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations” in Syria does not suggest that the two superpowers had reached a working understanding over Syria, never mind the ‘consensus’ that Mr Putin and he arrived at the G20 in Antalya barely 10 days earlier.
That said, it is to be seen how both Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan de-escalate the current crisis. The focus should rather be on the threats posed by their common enemies. Russia and Turkey are trying to safeguard their interests in the Syrian war — as are other nations — and as long as there isn’t a policy consensus among these nations, the IS will have a field day. That’s not a pleasant prospect.