Russia – Turkey: Βehind the Confrontation

By Dimitris Konstantakopoulos

The shooting down of the Russian aircraft by Turkey inside Syrian airspace, a few days ago, should not be considered as a ‘local’, ‘restricted’, or ‘bilateral’ incident. This is what underline serious analysts worldwide.

It demonstrates that, behind the global, “anti-terror” rhetoric of nearly everybody, very different objectives are pursued in fact. Supposedly, everyone in the Middle East is “fighting terrorism”. But often one gets the impression that they are rather fighting each other.

Equally it is a common impression that many “players”, while “fighting”, they are supporting at the same time this terrorism, which, for various reasons, is eventually very “convenient” for almost everyone. Even for those who want or seek an authoritarian “solution” to the European crisis, the familiaritiation with and the acceptance of a permanent “emergency regime” by Europeans, where everybody will be monitored, the demonstrations and gatherings will be prohibited, the secret services will be “integrated” beyond any national and democratic control! Such an authoritarian shift in Europe may be necessary to support the extreme pro-capital and antisocial policies pursued. “Anti-terrorism” and “anti-ilsamism” can provide the political legitimization of such a political shift, needed for other, internal to Europe reasons. Both refugee crisis and terrorism, have already increased the support for extreme and radical right in Europe.

We attempted in recent days, while speaking with experienced diplomatic observers in Paris, Moscow, Rome and Brussels to trace the logic behind the puzzle of the chaotic Middle East developments. Most of them spoke to us on condition of anonymity, which we respect. We will convey the main conclusions from discussions we have held.

The Russian intervention modifies the situation

Specialists of “counterterrorism” are unanimous. An operation like the terrorist attacks in Paris takes at least three to twelve months to be prepared. The “Islamic State”, or whoever has wished or planned or facilitated or permitted the Paris attacks (on the eve of French elections), could not calculate exactly their impact on the international situation. Because he could not know, by the time these attacks have been planned, that Kremlin would decide to intervene in Syria, getting by surprise the West and changing dramatically the very character of the “war against terror”.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, we could have easily seen a Western military intervention in Syria, supposedly to finish the terrorists, but in reality to end what remained of the Assad regime and to establish the post-Assad pro-western, pro-Israeli and anti-Iran order in Damascus. Such an intervention was very much in the agenda two years ago, but then it was stopped by the concerted action of Presidents Obama and Putin. Control of Syria and destruction of Hesbollah are also considered as most favorable conditions for a war against Iran.

But the military intervention of Moscow, a few weeks ago, got by total surprise neoconservative planners and western governments. It has changed dramatically the situation on the ground, ‘saving’ the Assad regime while making Russia a privileged player in a huge area of the Middle East, stretching from Lebanon to the frontiers of Pakistan! Rather than building the ‘Sunni Axis’ Ankara was dreaming, an informal “Shiite axiswas formed under the auspices of … Moscow and Teheran!

Moreover, Moscow is now using the very political platform” of “counterterrorism”, the West has created and legitimized, to justify its intervention for its own goals. Under these circumstances, a western military intervention in Syria (the probable result of the Paris attacks) became much more difficult and its outcome much more uncertain. In the same time, one of the fundamental pursuits of Western interventions in the Middle East for many decades, the exclusion of Russia from this region, was receiving a heavy blow.

Even the “neo-Cold War” rationale suffered a severe blow from the combination of the Russian intervention and the terrorist attacks in Paris. President Hollande is under severe pressure to reconsider his policy of making a priority the overthrow of Assad and accept a Franco-Russian alliance against the Islamic State. But such an alliance makes politically difficult, if not impossible, the continuation of the policy of sanctions against Russia.

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In other words, the decision of the Kremlin to intervene militarily in the Syrian crisis radically amended basic parameters of regional and international politics. Just this led some international analysts to estimate that there was outside encouragement to Ankara to shoot down the Russian aircraft. They maybe pushed Ankara to attempt a “provocation” in order to divert the strategic targeting of Moscow.

Diplomatic observers also point out, that almost in the same time with the shooting down of the Russian aircraft, we had an energy and food blockade of Crimea, while Ukraine closed its airspace for the Russian civil aviation. It was as somebody was “attacking” Russia, or at least demonstrating to Moscow its will to attack it, from both the South and the West of Russia.

Such a reading of events is further supported by the fact that hardly anybody can imagine Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Davutoglu deciding alone the shooting down of a Russian military aircraft.

Erdogan’s dead-end

Of course the Turkish leadership has its own very serious reasons to be extremely hostile to the Russian policy in Syria.

The Russian bombings directly threatened Ankara with cutting off its ties with Turkmens from Syria and the Islamic State, while strengthening the push to form a Kurdish entity in northern Syria. In general, the Russian air strikes, which saved the Assad regime, come, after Sissi’s coup in Egypt, to cancel the entire Middle East strategy adopted by Tayip Erdogan after 2011.

This is why and even before the shooting down of the Russian aircraft, the Turkish president had expressed publicly his understanding for the motivations of those who blasted Russian passenger plane over Sinai!

Turkey is threatened by a looming defeat of its policy in all “fronts”, in Egypt, in Syria and regarding Kurds. For the present Turkish leadership, which is dreaming the reconstitution, in another form, of the Ottoman Empire, it seems psychologically impossible to “land softly” to the role of a defeated and wounded average power. Mr. Erdogan has a systematic tendency to overestimate himself and his country, while sharing, with a very large part of the western political elite, a blatant underestimation of the strength of the Russian national feeling and a fundamental lack of understanding of the “Putin phenomenon” and of the international policy of the Krelmin. Such characteristics facilitate tactical mistakes and make more difficult a serious diplomatic handling of challenges ahead.

In general, AKP seems not to have either the conservative “wisdom” of Kemalism, nor to be consistent in an “anti-western”, “anticrusades” line. Its collaboration with the West for the overthrow of the nationalist Arab regimes of Gaddafi and Assad, after 2011, undermined its political ambition to become the voice of the whole of the Arab-Muslim world.

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The confrontation with Shimon Peres in Davos and the militant defense of the Palestinians had maximized at a given moment the political capital of Ankara throughout and beyond even Middle East. Privileged interlocutor of Moscow and Tehran, Tayip Erdogan remained (and always remain) the closest international ally of Obama (who probably has used him also as a “tool” for “counterbalancingsome of the “extremisms” in Netanyahu’s policy).

All these changed after 2011. The alliance with the West to overthrow Gaddafi and Assad undermined the role Ankara had the ambition to play. It changed Turkey, by and large, from a candidate to the leadesrhip of the whole Arab-Muslim world, into a “sectarian” leader of Sunnis against the Shiite.

As a consequence of these choices, of the overthrow of Muslim Brothers in Cairo and of the survival of Assad in Syria, Islamist Turkey now faces the consequences of bursting its strategy, as a result of its own contradictions and immodest ambitions.

All this made all the more easier to use probably Turkey in a role of international “provocateur” against Russia. But if such a thing happened, the question is by whom exactly was Turkey motivated to act like that. Because in Washington there are more than one players and they have often very strong competition amongst them and even different strategic targeting. This has been proven by the ten years conflict around whether to go to war against Iran or not.

The impasse of Obama and Brzezinski

Obama and Brzezinski are indeed facing also great difficulties. The Turkish impasse relfects largely also their own impasse, the impasse of the policy they had developed as an answer and an alternative plan to the influence and the aspirations of neoconservatives. Their policy was to try first to establish a long-term alliance with Iranian nationalism, while promoting vigorously for all the region the “model” of the “political Islam” represented by Turkey.

They managed to achieve the “dismantling”, at least for the time being, of the military threat against Iran and to conclude an agreement with it, but they still remain far from their other pursuit, to ally with Iran. Not only Netanyahu’s Israel will do everything to prevent such an “alliance”, but also until now we are witnessing rather a strengthening of the alliance between Moscow and Tehran. Their cooperation is being reflected in the missile attacks against Syria from the Caspian.

As for “political Islam”, the “model” succeeded in Turkey, under very specific, non-reproducible conditions (and it is unknown for how long). But this does not mean that it can be exported to countries, which, by the way, they are also experiencing the tremendous economic and political pressure of the neoliberal globalization.

Under similar circumstances and also in conditions of armed conflict with Arab nationalism, the “political Islam” in Sunni areas tends to convert constantly into “fundamentalist Islam”. The neoconservatives, the “fundamentalists of the West and Israel”, do not look hostile to such conversion, and maybe they facilitate it, because it gives them a double opportunity both to use this extremely primitive form of nationalism and religion fanatism for their own goals (for instance against Assad), building at the same time a very useful and convenient “enemy” (as the Paris attacks also proved).

Moreover, the intense “antirussianism” of Brzezinski pushes him into alignment, in the “Russian” front, with the neocons, which allows them to “fish” sometime in the rather murky waters of Moscow and prevents the formation of a more cooperative relationship between Obama and Putin, which could be a serious defeat of “neo-conservatism”.

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By shooting down the Russian aircraft Americans, if they are and whoever Americans are behind Ankara’s decision, seem to try to put Moscow before the dilemma of whether to risk a direct military escalation with a NATO country (something which, at least theoretically, bears even the probability of a major nuclear conflict), while strengthening the international “cold war climate” against Russia, or to retreat, enduring a major defeat in its prestige.

So they are “testing” practically the “resistances”, the “strategy” and the “aspirations” of Putin, leaving Ankara to take on the likely cost of their choices! And they have always the possibility to argue that all these things are made by Turkey and not by themselves.

The destruction of Russian-Turkish relations, which is already the case, it is not at all undesirable for those in Washington or elsewhere, who are at work for a new cold war. While important circles, in US and Israel, are looking with huge interest into the creation of a Kurdish entity in northern Syria, something which already creates anxiety not only in Ankara, but also in Damascus.

In a strategic masterpiece, the neoconservatives, if they are those who provoked, directly or indirectly, the Turkish move, seem to push Ankara into adventurism in order to create problems to Moscow, but, at the same time, to reduce significantly the ambitions and independence of Erdogan and Turkey!

We have to wait, in order to witness in its development, the whole Russian response, which should depend on the totality of its strategic pursuit. The first economic measures of Russia and the installation of antiaircraft-missile systems S400, which control very effectively much of the Turkish and Israeli airspace, all the airspace of Cyprus and nearly all of Syria, give a first taste, but it is too early to make safe forecasts for the future. At present, however, the advantage is clearly on the Russian side. Moscow has already demonstrated its new military capacities, taking also by surprise Western obsrvers. But, at the end, it will be judged by its capacity to produce a political plan and a strategy for the whole region.

We must wait to see if the downing of the Russian aircraft will strengthen those forces in the Kremlin which believe that Russia faces a serious trheat from the West and must calibrate its policy to the seriousness of the challenge, rather delude itself perpetually with the dream of an inclusion, on somewhat decent conditions, in the international architecture of the post-Cold War “new world order” (and for many people a “disorder”).

It is certain that we are rapidly entering a period of a widespread and multifaceted crisis, the outcome of which will very much influence our future, if not our survival.

Brussels. 30.11.2015

published by Athens-Macedonian News Agency

www.konstantakopoulos.com