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Issue #1713      December 2, 2015

Turkey’s act is unjustifiable

Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber marks a dramatic escalation of tension, heightened by the likelihood that it was premeditated.

The moment the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 jet was shot down.

Ankara insists that the warplane entered Turkish air space, but territorial infringements happen all over the world and usually attract diplomatic protests rather than air-to-air missiles.

Decades of hostility in Europe between NATO countries and the Soviet Union, or since 1991 Russia, have not seen a downing of the other side’s aircraft since the 1950s.

It is inconceivable that Turkish pilots would have fired on a Russian warplane without prior orders that this was acceptable or possibly even required.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speedy appeal for the convening of a NATO extraordinary meeting in Brussels was clearly intended to canvass support for its provocative action.

Ankara claims to have radar footage that the Su-24 crossed the Turkish border while Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains that it was one kilometre inside Syrian territory.

Whatever the Russian plane’s precise location when it was shot down – its wreckage is four kilometres inside Syria and the pilots clearly bailed out well within the Syrian border – it is self-evident that at no time did it pose a threat to Turkey or the Turkish population.

Moscow has said that the plane was returning to the Khmeimim air base after attacking targets in Latakia province linked to the Syrian Turkmen Army opposition group, many of whose members come from Russia’s Caucasus region.

The Turkmen group is armed and trained by Ankara, which had proposed to Washington during the G20 summit in Antalya that the US and Turkey carry out a joint air operation over Syria to support its activities against the Syrian army.

Despite being bracketed with the Free Syrian Army by the US as “moderates,” they share operations on a regular basis with Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. The Erdogan regime fears that it has been losing influence in Washington – and, by extension, with NATO – in light of US forces’ air support to the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG) at Kobane and elsewhere along Syria’s border with Turkey.

This feeling has been exacerbated by the destruction by US warplanes of 283 oil tankers, following on from 116 last week, that were used to transfer oil looted from Syrian oilfields for sale in regional states, including Turkey, which has provided about half of all revenues received by ISIS.

Russian authorities announced that its planes had blasted about 1,000 tankers in five days last week, which raises questions as to why the US-led coalition that began bombing Syria over a year ago – ostensibly against ISIS – has only just settled on these vital targets.

Putin’s bitter observation that ISIS oil-smuggling operations now have the backing of the Turkish military will not have been a throwaway comment.

The same applies to his complaint that Erdogan dispensed with the diplomatic nicety to contact Moscow and offer regret over what had taken place, preferring to mobilise NATO allies behind the unjustifiable act.

Sergey Lavrov’s cancellation of today’s planned visit to Ankara and the likely – and potentially costly – suspension of Russian tourist visits to Turkey illustrate the chilly nature of bilateral relations.

Whether that remains the sum total of Moscow’s response to its losses will depend to a large extent on the attitude of Turkey’s NATO allies.

The key question, as never before, is whether world powers view ISIS as the main enemy or not.

Morning Star

Next article – Ankara’s oil business with ISIS

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