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Turkey extends an olive branch
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 28 - 11 - 2015

Turkey would now like to smooth over relations with Russia after it shot down a Russian warplane which served to highlight the chaotic and complex nature of the Syrian civil war.
Tensions sharply escalated between Ankara and Moscow over Tuesday's incident after a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian SU-24 bomber over Syria and one of the two Russian pilots was killed. Turkey says the bomber violated its airspace, while Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of "serious consequences" and rejected Turkey's claim that it did not know the downed plane was Russian.
Meanwhile, Turkey's military released an audio recording of what it says was its warning to the Russian warplane although the surviving pilot said he had received no warning and that the aircraft did not violate Turkish air space. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government will not apologize for the air strike. In turn, Russia started to deploy long-range air defense missiles to its base in Syria to destroy any target that may threaten its warplanes.
In trying to calm the situation, Turkey is stressing that fighting Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) is the main priority. But it is hard to imagine Russia and Turkey in the same anti-Daesh coalition given their stark differences on the Syrian conflict. Ankara is supporting rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a key ally of Moscow.
It remains to be seen what if any action Putin may take to retaliate against Turkey for the downing of the aircraft. The two countries have strong trade and economic ties, with Turkey providing a major tourist destination for Russians and Russia providing over half of Turkey's natural gas. Russia also needs all of the revenues it can generate in light of Western-led sanctions over Moscow's Ukraine adventure. So, it makes a great deal of sense for Russia and Turkey to continue cooperating.
There is also the question of the Kurds whose importance has been elevated thanks to the entire Middle East imbroglio. While as recently as this year Erdogan was engaged in peace negotiations with the Kurdistan Worker's Party, these have stalled after Erdogan blamed the PKK in part for the Oct. 10 bombing in Ankara that left over 100 dead. Now, Erdogan has even threatened to strike US-backed Kurds that have been fighting Daesh, a situation Russia can easily exploit should it choose to do so.
The Democratic Union Party of Syrian Kurds has already reached out to Russia and discussed a desire for greater self-rule in Syria. Russia appears to have been open to this. It is not difficult to envision the Syrian Kurds striking a deal with Russia to gain more autonomy, up to and including a de facto state. This is something the West will not accept given ties to Turkey and fears of a spillover effect into Turkey itself.
We may never learn definitively whether the pilots strayed into Turkish airspace accidentally or whether this incursion was a test of Turkish and NATO resolve. It may mean it will be harder to reach international agreements that include Russia, including on finding a solution to the conflict.
In the immediate wake of the incident, the situation looked alarming because the Russian and Turkish presidents are strongmen and would be reluctant to back down or seek a compromise. Although a direct military confrontation was always unlikely, the shooting down of the Russian plane will further fuel the Syrian conflict and complicate international peace efforts.


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