This morning, news broke of Turkish forces bringing down a jet which had reportedly violated Turkish air space. After a few hours, Putin confirmed that it was indeed a Russian jet and stated that the act was a ‘stab in the back’ by ‘accomplices of terror’. Putin claims that the jet never strayed from Syrian air space from which it has been conducting a campaign to assist the Assad regime in combatting ‘terrorism’. Syrian activists claim the Russians are targeting them in order to weaken the revolution and prop up the regime once more.
The response to the downing of the jet has been one of unease with talk of an escalation between the two countries with widespread reprecussions. However in reality, Russia’s options are quite few.
It is of particular note that the downing of the jet comes within days of Putin’s visit to Tehran where he sought to solidify ties following weeks of criticism from senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. A number of deals were signed, many unnecessary according to some analysts, that suggest that Iran offered to help the Russian economy by pledging to purchase planes and weapons worth billions. This sign of weakness is likely to have emboldened the Turks in taking more assertive action against, what they see, as Russia’s thwarting of a legitimate cause.
Moreover, Russia is aware that it risks increased isolation and cannot rely on its supposed ally Egypt and has yet to win over the other Arab states including Saudi Arabia and the UAE despite many meetings in Moscow. As such, Putin has spent much effort in not only seeking to cement new ties, but to prevent cracks with his own current allies as Iran begins to welcome a rapprochement with the US.
The act should be seen as part of a wider jostling between the various regional powers to push through their agenda on Syria. Turkey have repeated in no uncertain terms that there is no room for Assad in Syria. Russia are of the belief that ISIS cannot be defeated without the assistance of the regime.
NATO have called an extraordinary meeting to discuss the incident. However there is no doubt that the act has dented Russia’s image as a superpower wading into the conflict and will have bolstered Turkey’s image as key player in any agreement made concerning the future of Assad and Syria.