Experts warn that a crisis of historic proportions is brewing between Moscow and Ankara after Turkey shot down a Russian plane that edged into its airspace on Tuesday.
The tension between Ankara and Moscow after Turkey downed a Russian jet near the Syrian border has turned into a crisis, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov canceling his visit to Turkey. Russia has sent Turkey the message that the downing of the plane will result in serious consequences. Experts, speaking to DW, agree that a historical crisis is unfolding in Turkey-Russian relations and that Ankara should not refrain from adopting diplomatic behavior geared toward solving this crisis.
During the G20 summit, preparations were made for a meeting of a subgroup of the Turkey-Russia High-Level Cooperation Council. Minister Lavrov was slated to visit Istanbul for this meeting, however, after the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) declared that its airspace had been violated, and it became clear that the plane it shot down was Russian, the cancellation of Lavrov's visit has resulted in evaluations that a crisis is brewing. Lavrov himself said that the threat of terror in Turkey is just as high as it is in Egypt, where a plane filled with Russian tourists was bombed late last month.
A long or short term crisis?
Turkey's claim that it warned the Russian plane ten times before it shot down has not aided in stifling Russia's harsh reaction. Ankara has taken the position that it was protecting its borders and that it does not make concessions regarding the violation of its airspace. Amid the ongoing Syrian crisis, what does another crisis, this time between Ankara and Russia, signify? Will it be a long or short term crisis, and what changes can we expect in the relationship between the two countries?
“There is a historic crisis in the Turkey-Russia relationship. Turkey needs to think about how it will solve this crisis immediately, or else there will be no turning back,” said Atilim University International Relations faculty member and Russia expert Hasan Ali Karasar. At the same time, Turkey needs to research what happened to the two pilots, one of whom Russia claims is safe and one of whom was reported shot dead by rebels, he said. “If Turkey does not act sincerely on this subject Russia will absolutely react even more severely,” Karasar added.
'Both countries need to find a solution'
Ankara’s call for a NATO meeting should not be interpreted as a preparation for war, according to Karasar, though the downing of the plane should be taken into account alongside the Russian attacks on the Turkmen region of Syria. “At this point a major duty has fallen to diplomacy. Diplomats from both countries need to find a solution to end this crisis. The upcoming hours are critical,” he said.
According to Serhat Erkmen of the 21st Century Turkey Institute, Turkey made a harsh move by downing the Russian plane, and that the upcoming days will be “crisis-indexed” on the Turkey-Russia relationship.
“Turkey is known to be sensitive on the matter of the Turkmens. Russia was aware of this. Russia’s constant violation of Turkish airspace was perceived as Turkey losing its deterrence. Turkey wanted to break this perception, but it reacted a bit harshly. At a time when sensitivities over the Turkmens has risen, a Russian plane was shot at the first violation,” Erkmen told DW.
A new front opened in the Syrian crisis
This incident will not result in Russia taking any steps back on its operations in Syria, he said. “Western allies are telling Turkey, ‘yes, you have the right to protect your border, but let’s not blow this out of proportion’. This is the situation, a new front opens up in the Syrian crisis and Russia and Turkey are forced to confront it. This signifies that a tense period is on the way,” Erkmen said.
According to Erkmen, Turkey’s downing of the Russian plane represents a “moral victory” for the Syrian opposition. However, Russia will continue with its operations in the Turkmen region and will take Aleppo from rebel hands. “It will be difficult to stop Russia at this point. Turkey-Russia relations will undergo a crisis. The development of this crisis will be determined via announcements coming from the West,” Erkmen said.
Turkey relies on Russia's natural gas supplies?
There are also those who blame the escalation of this crisis between Ankara and Moscow on Turkey’s Syria policy. “Half of the coal that Turkey consumes is imported, and 31 percent of that comes from Russia,” said energy expert Necdet Pamir, adding that Turkey relies on Russia for 55 percent of its natural gas and 16 percent of its crude oil.
“Turkey is building a nuclear plant with Russia. It is dependent on Russia for energy and due to its poor Syria policy is asking what happened and finding itself unable to get out of the crisis. If Russia says that serious consequences will result from the plane being shot down, then such consequences are possible. It can cut the natural gas supply whenever it wants,” Pamir said.
“Turkey took an unnecessary stance on the Syrian crisis. It tried to topple the regime and ensured that the crisis in the region would grow. Everyone knows that Russia would never want to lose its position in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has thrown itself into a crisis, in fact, it remains alone with the threat of war, said former Ambassador Faruk Logoglu, adding that Turkey needs to heed calls for good judgement coming from the West so that the crisis with Russia does not escalate.