Russia and the West have many reasons to avoid conflict, but this incident still shows how dangerous the Syrian crisis is for the world.
The apparent downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey – which Ankara claims was violating its airspace, despite ten warnings – is an exceptionally dangerous moment in Syria’s four-year civil war.
But, in the context of warming diplomatic relations with Moscow and the extraordinary risks of escalation, Turkey’s Western allies are likelier to proceed with extreme caution.
A crisis like this was almost inevitable. Turkey had complained of repeated airspace violations by Russian aircraft in early October, prompting Nato to issue a protest. Later that month, Turkey did indeed shoot down what, for one heart-stopping moment, seemed to have been a Russian fighter aircraft – but turned out to have been a probable Russian drone.
This is the first time since the end of the Cold War that a Nato member has downed a Russian warplane.
With Russia, Syrian, American, French, British, Canadian, and Arab aircraft filling Syria’s crowded skies, Russian aircraft coming with 500 feet of American planes, and Russia repeating some of its border-probing behaviour seen over the last year or two in Europe, a crisis was always liable to erupt. The US and Russia had agreed safety protocols in late October, including a ground communication line for round-the-clock contact, but this wouldn’t have applied to Russia-Turkey interactions.
Photo: Anadolu Agency
It is crucial to keep a sense of perspective. This would not be the first time that Russian aircraft have been shot down by American-made planes, or vice versa, without sparking Word War 3.
The Middle East is bringing the world’s Great Powers into their closest proximity since Kosovo War in 1999, and in a far more dangerous way.
Moscow and Ankara are likely to avoid a spiral into conflict over this incident. But the underlying cause will remain, and such episodes will repeat themselves unless Russia realises that brinksmanship on Nato’s borders is a reckless, dangerous game.
The Middle East is bringing the world’s Great Powers into their closest proximity since Kosovo War in 1999, and in a far more dangerous way. The Syrian war is not only generating vast refugee flows and incubating the world’s most potent terrorist group; it is also a cockpit of traditional state-on-state international rivalries.