The Paris attack has brought different stake holders together to fight against the common enemy. But the downing of the Russian fighter plane changed the scenario.
This is first time after the end of Cold War, Russia and the United States are at the cross road of the world politics, creating a scenario of brinkmanship. In fact, the spat is between Russia and Turkey, the current reason is shooting of Russian fighter plane by Turkey. But it is not merely confined between the two. The United States and NATO countries are engaged aggressively. The common enemy is ISIS. The situation becomes complex when the views and methodology of Russia and America are completely opposed to each other. Despite fighting against ISIS they are fighting against each other. There are many players and regions involved in this imbroglio. Middle Eastern countries are also divided lot. The Paris attack has brought different stake holders together to fight against the common enemy. But downing of the Russian fighter plane changed the scenario.
The US has supported the action of Turkey overtly. Obama said the US was very interested in accelerating its military relationship with Turkey. He also praised Turkey for generously accepting refugees fleeing violence in Syria, and credited Turkey with strengthening security along its border. President Obama has stated that Turkey has a right to defend its air space and territory. He accused Russia for not focusing on ISIS but doing exactly opposite to the West. There is also conspiracy theory that Turkey shot down the Russian plane because, as a member of NATO, it felt that this incident would be a perfect opportunity to teach a lesson to Russia. The NATO members have already voiced the military deployment on the border of Syria where Russian fighter planes are dropping bombs.
Russia has long been neglected since the cold war. The survival of NATO as a military alliance itself is a challenge to Russian Security. Therefore fighting against in the name of ISIS has exposed the real stinks of the old rival of the Cold War. Russia is looking for space and opportunity to showcase its own power and mantle. That is how Russia’s incursions into Turkish airspace have not been accidental but rather deliberate efforts to test Turkey, NATO and the US led anti ISIS coalition and their vision includes the creation of safe zones in Northwestern Syria, the very region where Russian bombers are very active. Moscow surely wants to showcase its weaponry and to hold on its base in Tartus that is its only military base in the Mediterranean.
Opposite Road Map in Syria of Russia and the US
The road map of the US and Russia for resolving the Syrian crisis is diametrically opposite to each other. The fundamental disagreement was very evident in the speeches given by president Obama and Putin at the UN General Assembly. Putin and Obama differed on the basic question of what constitutes foundations of a sustainable state. Obama gave a strong defence of democracy as foundation of stability. Russia simply does not believe in democratic stability. Russia’s instinct is the opposite of the west; to support the strongman; to push the genie of IS in the bottle. In Syria, Russia’s strategic goal to prevent the collapse of the state survival of the regime is seen as a key to the survival of the regime. The idea that regimes must be punished for their crimes is one that Russia does not share. Moscow is opposed to the concept of transnational justice. Moscow thinks that this can be dealt with once the Syrian regime has consolidated itself and is ready to provide effective fighting force to tackle it.
The US likes to maintain the pivotal position in Syria. The Russian entry into it might alter the chemistry of this coalition. Russia has already made it clear that it does not need any coalition. The destruction of Russian bomber in Turkey can be compared to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria which led to Second World War.
Turkey and Russia have long been on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war. Russia is supporting president Bashnal-Assad and Turkey backingup an array of rebel groups. But thses tensions have intensified since Turkey is joined the US led campaign against ISIS. NATO wanted to deploy the troops in Turkey against Russian attack. Beyond the Russia-Turkey conflict this seems to be a larger fight for setting the world politics in the Middle East.
Will Russia-Turkey Conflict convert into War?
The verbal accusation turned worse between Russia and Turkey. Both the presidents are not willing to bow down but going crazy. Aftermath of the Turkish shoot out of the Russian war plane, the crisis between Turkey and Russia is escalating. Both are rigid and uncompromising. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president are, unable and unwilling to back down and step back. For both it leaders is seen as an act of weakness. And any compromise seems personally unacceptable and politically untenable. For both men, the imperative is to “save face” and to maintain an image of decisiveness.
After the incident Putin signed the presidential decree on sanction against Turkey. The trade balance is heavily in Russia’s favour. Turkey buys the energy from Russia. At the same time income from the gas exports is extremely important for the Russian economy, which is passing through recession. Russia does not have many business friends on the international scene. Turkey was one of the few partners it could rely on. Russian visitors are crucial for the tourism in Turkey. Around 4.5 million Russians visited the country in 2014. Putin has advised the Russians not to visit Turkey in the aftermath of the downing of the plane.
President Barack Obama urged Turkey and Russia to set aside tensions over the downing of a Russian warplane and focus on the common priority of defeating the Islamic State group. Yet he emphasised the need for Turkey and Russia to “de-escalate” their conflict and not get distracted from the campaign against IS and efforts to resolve Syria’s long-running civil war. “We all have a common enemy. That is ISIL,” Obama said. The US is keener to maintain the in-depth hold in Syria. It is willing to debase the Russian hold. On the other hand Russia is determined to maintain its military base in the Middle East and create larger space beyond Assad regime in Syria. This contradictory approach between the two may escalate to major conflict which may trigger a greater war in the world leaving behind the ISIS. That seems to be very unfortunate scenario where all five P powers have agreed to move along with the mandate of Security Council and thrash out the Islamic terrorism without being challenged by veto power.
Dr Satish Kumar (The writer is the head of the Centre for International Relations, CUJ Ranchi)