The Turkish Shootdown of a Russian Aircraft: Hardly a Surprise


2015-11-27 Readers of Second Line of Defense were not surprised by the Turkish shootdown of the Russian aircraft.

Hardly, an unpredictable event, the shootdown is a function of the evolving situation and Turkish objectives.

With regard to context, Professor Amatzia Baram highlighted two important data points going into this phase of developments in the region.

First, the Israelis and Jordanians recognized the obvious threat of airspace intrusions and set up a hotline with Moscow and discussed the situation with the Russians.

There is a key danger however.

Our pilots know every tree and every trench between Israel and Turkey.

The Russian pilots do not and there is a clear danger that they will show up in key conflict areas unintended with perhaps negative consequences. 

That is why deconfliction hot lines are important as well. 

In Syria, the U.S. and the allies have vast areas to adjust; in between Israel, Lebanon, and Damascus, and the Alawite mountain and shore line, we are talking only a few kilometers.

We already know from interviewing European pilots involved in the Baltic air patrol that the Russian pilots are young and there have been incidents in which it is not clear that the older established rules of the game are known or executed.

Professor Baram added an additional aspect which plays in the current event as well.

Question: Will the Russians expand their influence in Iraq as well due to their expanded Syrian presence? 

Amatzia Baram: We shall see what they do, but they clearly are gaining traction in Iraq with their actions. 

For example, the NATO radars in Northern Iraq are feeding information into the joint intelligence center in Iraq. 

The Iraqi government is sharing information with the Iranians and now with the Russians.

Putin could well use information gained from this source to dispute Turkish claims that the Russian planes were shot down in Turkish airspace.

And what makes the Turkish claims murky at best is the position of the current Turkish Administration, which has de facto aided Isis, certainly the ISIS oil traffic, as well as being more interested in killing Kurds than ISIS.

Clearly, the Turkish Administration has used the US desire to use Turkish air bases – something which they did not allow when the U.S. needed it in the Iraq wars – to gain de facto support for the Turkish Administration objectives.

Professor Baram in an interview in 2014 highlighted the Turkish dynamic.

So the Kurds can then take back the Kurdish areas if you support them. 

With American support they have already pushed ISIL out of the Mosul Dam, north of the city. 

But what to do about support for the Syrian Kurds? 

Here Turkey comes into play; the support of the current Turkish Administration of ISIL is making the US Administration absolutely furious but not furious enough to provide weapons and other supplies to the Syrian Kurds.

Russia is a key player in the way ahead against ISIS.

The French recognize this and have shaped an approach with Russia to expand capabilities to go after ISIS as well.

These actions are driven by fundamental interests and are unlikely to be slowed down by third party “warnings”

Now the Russians are moving in significant air defense assets which changes the game in terms of the use of airspace not just in Syria but more broadly given that borders are difficult to determine in many situations.

There is little reason not to work with Russia in sorting out a way ahead, which is not the same as acquiescing in Putin’s view of the world or his broader global ambitions.

 Russia has accused Turkey of 'planned provocation' and supporting ISIS in selling human organs after one of Moscow's fighter jets was shot down by the Turkish army

Russia has accused Turkey of ‘planned provocation’ and supporting ISIS in selling human organs after one of Moscow’s fighter jets was shot down by the Turkish army

The situation can easily spin out of control.

As a Daily Mail piece published on November 26, 2015 highlighted:

Russian president Vladimir Putin has accused the U.S. of being complicit in the destruction of its military jet three days ago – suggesting the Americans knew exactly when and where it was travelling.

In a press conference at the Kremlin yesterday, Putin said the Russians had given prior information to the U.S. of the flight path of the plane – but the U.S. had ‘leaked’ the information to Turkey. 

In other developments, Putin’s dreaded S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems – mobilized in the wake of the jet’s destruction – were photographed being unloaded from military transports in Syria. 

He also vowed to join France in coordinating bombing campaigns against ISIS forces and agreed to share intelligence information.

Given the point made by Professor Baram about the northern Iraq radars and feeding of information, Putin’s accusation certainly gains in credibility.

Rather than abstract debates about the future of the world, and climate change conferences in Paris, it might make sense to sort out how to work with Russia and key allies in the destruction of the ISIS infrastructure.

Editor’s Note: This story from the CNN interview with the President of Turkey highlights the dispute between Turkey and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow on Thursday that the strike was unexpected.

“It did not even come into our mind that we could be struck by a party that we considered to be our ally,” he said. “We considered Turkey to be a friendly country.”

Putin also noted that Russia had informed the United States, Turkey’s ally, of its flight path, and said it was “not possible” the Turkish air force didn’t recognize the Russian aircraft.

“Turkey is a member of this (U.S.-led) coalition and must know that Russians are working there,” he said.

But to this the Turkish President had a different version.

“I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us,” he said from the Turkish capital. “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to … violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence.”

And diverting attention from the Turkish role in the war against ISIS, the Presdient added:

“If Mr. Putin is saying that we are cooperating with Daesh, that we are accomplices, I think that would be a huge mistake, because we are doing the exact opposite,” he told CNN, using another name for ISIS. “Yesterday there was a declaration which was very unacceptable. Some people claimed that we were buying oil from Daesh — and the fact that people in positions of authority in Russia said this is very, very unacceptable.”

It maybe unacceptable to the Turkish President, but there are many sources other than the Russians reporting Turkish engagement in the ISIS oil trade.

Editor’s Note: What follows is a comment from a reader which highlights the dynamics of the shootdown event and its consequences:

A question comes from the video above as well as the following hit on the Russian rescue helo.

What is the difference between the “good” Islamic fighter vs the “bad” Islamic fighter is not very clear in this situation.

With pride the video embedded in the story shows the Turkoman rebel ally (“the good guys”) bragging about shooting the Russian pilot under parachute and killing him while the crowd screams “Allahu Akbar“ in the background.

Same in the funker video after they TOW the rescue helo.

No matter the former act is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

…and the “bad” Islamic fighter uses “captured” US TOW missiles and military equipment to shoot Syrian/Russian forces.

Such a crystal clear difference between the “good” and the “bad” actors in this situation!

And now with the S400 in theater that relatively permissive air environment is now resting on a razors edge with an injured bear at the controls.