The repercussions of the shooting down of the Russian fighter jet on 24 Noember 2015

By Captain Samoutis Paris

 

1.  Introduction

The shooting down of the Russian fighter jet SU-24 by two Turkish F-16 fighter jets on the Turkish-Syrian border on 24 of November 2015, is considered as a serious event that will disrupt relations between Moscow and Ankara and may have unforeseeable consequences. More specifically, at 09:18 am that morning, the alarm sounded in Ankara when the information arrived from the General Staff of Turkey that a Russian fighter jet had violated the Turkish airspace. According to the Turkish view, the violation of the airspace by Russian fighter continued until 09:22. On the other hand, the Russians deny this accusation and stressed that the SU-24 was flying legally only within the airspace of Syria. Finally, at 09:24 with a decision taken by the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the 2 Turkish F-16 shot down the SU-24 using air to air missiles. The Russian fighter jet fell within the Syrian territory, in an area controlled by Turkmen fighters, who are fighting against the Syrian government. In the end, although the 2 Russian pilots ejected on time from their airplane and used their parachutes, one of them was killed by the Turkmen fighters[1]. In fact, according to the information so far released, the pilot was killed by a Turkish citizen fighting alongside the Turkmen fighters.

 

2.  Crisis management

In the first hours of the crisis management, both leaders of countries reacted through verbal and statements. On one hand the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu argued that “Turkey has the right to defend its borders”, since as Ankara reminded, it had previously warned that would activate the “rules of engagement” for violations of its airspace. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, reacted strongly and after threatening Turkey, stressed that this incident will have serious consequences. For Russia, this action of Turkey was a “stab in the back by accomplices of terrorists”[2]. President Putin in his statements also accused Turkey of giving financial and military assistance to IS[3].

 

3.  Cold Peace-Cold War-Consequences

Since then, Turkey and Russia are experiencing their worst diplomatic crisis since the Cold War. Russia has announced retaliatory measures against Turkey that are primarily related to the sectors of Energy, Tourism, Construction and Agriculture[4]. However, from the continuous escalation of tensions between the two countries, it is estimated to be several consequences and repercussions at diplomatic and military level too.

3.1Repercussions on Energy-Construction:

In Turkey they fear that Moscow may retaliate by interrupting the flow of gas, causing in this way serious repercussions in the country especially in the construction industry, since Turkey purchases 80% of its gas from Moscow. Nevertheless, the impacts in the energy sector are estimated as serious and negative for both sides. Moreover, the possible cancellation of the construction of the Turkish stream pipeline will not benefit anyone. The Russian Gazprom company needs the Turkish stream for transporting larger quantities of natural gas to Europe via Turkey and prefers to delay its construction until the improvement of the diplomatic relations of two countries instead of aborting the project. Furthermore, something that has to be emphasized is that sabotaging the Turkish Stream is one of the major goals for the USA, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In this way, these countries can benefit from the sale of their own oil products. It remains unknown; however until now, what will happen with the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, a project costing 25 billion USD, the construction of which was entrusted to Russian companies. With the cancellation of the above project, the Russian economy will be deprived of that income but more importantly, Turkey will be deprived of the opportunity to become a nuclear-industrial country or will be forced to find another constructor.

3.2Repercussions on Tourism:

Τhe most damaging impact to Turkey from the sanctions will come via tourism. Some 4.8 million Russians visited Turkey last year, accounting for over 10 percent of foreign arrivals, according to the Economist[5]. The call of the Russian Foreign Ministry for the withdrawal of Russian citizens from Turkey is expected to have further economic consequences to the Turkish tourist sector. Also, Turkish Airlines may suffer a serious financial blow, if ultimately the Russian Federation decides to ban the transit of its aircrafts from its FIR. Even if it is very difficult to make any precise estimates, it is estimated that if no Russian tourists visit Turkey over the whole year of 2016, the loss to Turkish tourism revenues might amount to 3 billion USD, or around 0.4 percent of GDP.

3.3Repercussions on Agriculture:

Under the decree of Russian President, the import of certain products originating from Turkey will be temporarily banned or restricted[6]. According to an official report, Turkish agricultural exports to Russia amounted to a modest 1.2 billion USD last year, equivalent to just 0.15 percent of Turkish GDP[7]. Meanwhile, there will be ramifications from the import ban for Russia, as several economists believe. Turkey accounts for around a quarter of Russia’s total food imports. Sourcing these products from elsewhere will be more expensive, particularly since Russia has already banned food imports from the EU, US, Australia, Canada and a few other countries. It is expected therefore that the prices of agricultural products and food in the Russian market will rise, having a negative impact to its consumers.

3.4Repercussions on political level:

Meanwhile, after a Turkish demand for the involvement of NATO in order to protect its ally, NATO members met in an emergency session under Article 4 of its charter to discuss the crisis. As a result, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary General, stated: "I have previously expressed my concerns about the implications of the military actions of the Russian Federation close to NATO borders. As we have repeated made clear, we stand in solidarity with Turkey, and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally Turkey”. In this way Turkey managed to bring NATO directly against Russia and its allies (Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah), which was probably the Turkish plan that led to the shooting down of the SU-24. Nevertheless, it is important to state that the RIA-Novosti presented specific statements from a European diplomatic source, which stated that Ankara, at the meeting of NATO members on November 24, did not receive the support, which was counting on because the Alliance considered the incident involving the downing of Russian fighter, an issue between Turkey and Russia[8]. As a result, it is expected that Turkey will seek further involvement of NATO on the issue in order to receive protection and create mutual feeling of solidarity and security.

3.5Repercussions on military level:

Subsequently, this crisis raises this conflict to another level, not to far from a war confrontation. As Russian President Vladimir Putin stated during a meeting with the Russian Defense Ministry some days later "Any force that threatens the Russian military in Syria should be destroyed"[9]. That was a clear statement from Russia that will not accept any further losses from anyone and if this happens again it will be considered as a “casus belli”. Furthermore, in another speech, President Putin spoke about the potential impact and repercussions for Turkey. More specifically, he stressed that "We shall remind them many times about what they've done, and they will regret what they've done for a long time. We know what needs to be done"[10]. Already, Russia formally denounces and blames Turkey that cooperates with the Islamic State. The Deputy Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said that "main consumer of the stolen oil to Syria and Iraq from the" Islamic State "is Turkey," and stressed that "Russia will continue to supply evidence, confirming the theft by Turkey of its neighbors". Continuing to use so hard wording, the Russian Government is estimated that it will take advantage of potential opportunities that may appear. In case Russian Government has the opportunity to reciprocate using military means, it is expected to do so. Moreover, it is possible that as a result of the confrontation, Russia will try to support the pro-Kurdish party in Turkey and its leader Selahattin Demirtas with statements and other means particularly financially. At the same time Russian Secret Services may attempt to achieve an indirect blow to the Turkish Armed Forces by providing military aid to the Kurdish armed organization YPG and PKK leading to a proxy war. On the contrary, Turkish side has the means and political will and may react in a similar way providing military assistance and guidance to the Tatarian minority in the Crimea peninsula. As a repercussion, a final war confrontation between NATO and the Russian coalition at Middle East is a possible development that cannot be excluded.

As a consequence, Turkey proceeded with several precautionary measures. In order to avoid any retaliation from the Russian side, the Turkish Military Headquarters issued a prohibition order and has forbidden its staff to visit Russia for the holidays in a context of tension between the two countries. The headquarters banned both its staff and the cadets of the Military Academy to visit Russia for the holidays as a "precautionary measure"[11]. Nevertheless, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened in the past the Russian President, that Turkey would close the Bosporus (March 2014) because of the referendum in the Crimea and the violation of rights of the Crimean Tatars, who are "under the protection" of Turkey. There is great concern that Turkey may attempt to close the Strait of Bosporus and Dardanelles in retaliation. In such a development the Russian fleet will be a "Trapped Fleet".

 

4.  Conclusion

If eventually such a move or a similar one take place by Turkey, may cause a strong military reaction by the Russian Federation. Overall, it is estimated that while damaging, it’s unlikely the Russian reactions and sanctions to be game-changer for Turkey. Of course, this will depend on whether Russia or Turkey will escalate further. Nobody can predict how President Erdogan may act in the near future but it is very possible that President Putin may have to answer using military force against Turkey if such an incident takes place again. It is more possible though, that there will be a de-escalation if and when a permanent solution to the Syrian civil war is found soon, before it is too late.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the Cyprus Army Officers Association.