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Putin Pushing Buttons
Russia-NATO Confrontation over Turkish Airspace

Russia hasn’t wasted any time shattering Western illusions in Syria. First, despite initial rhetoric about fighting terror, they bombed every anti-Assad force in sight except ISIS. Then, they killed any hope of a no-fly zone. Russian authorities announced on Friday that the Moskva, a naval cruiser armed with 64 S-300 ship-to-air missiles, and an unspecified number of other ships, were deployed just offshore of Latakia, near the air base set up by the Russians weeks ago.

Meanwhile, a Russian general calibrated his comments in a way that was sure to rattle Brussels: “Panic and desertion has started among them. About 600 mercenaries have left their positions and are trying to flee to Europe. Thus, the Russian airstrikes will not only be continued; their intensiveness will be increased,” he said. Another Russian admiral seemed to indicate that Russian ground troops, in the guise of volunteer veterans of the wars in eastern Ukraine, would make an appearance soon, and that their appearance on the scene “could not be stopped.”

And, just in case you thought this couldn’t sound any more like the Ukraine fight, Russia is violating the airspace of the nearest NATO member. Reuters reports:

The United States and NATO denounced Russia on Monday for violating Turkish airspace and Ankara threatened to respond, reporting two incursions in two days and raising the prospect of direct confrontation between the former Cold War adversaries.

NATO held an emergency meeting in Brussels of ambassadors from its 28 member states to respond to what Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called “unacceptable violations of Turkish airspace” after a Russian jet crossed its frontier with Syria on Saturday.

A Russian warplane again violated Turkish airspace on Sunday, a Turkish foreign ministry official said late on Monday, prompting Ankara to summon Moscow’s ambassador.

It had done the same following Saturday’s violation, and said Russia would be held “responsible for any undesired incident that may occur” if it were repeated.

“The Russians are not playing ball at deconfliction—they are just saying, ‘keep out of our way,’” a UK-based analyst noted.

Part of Putin’s project recently has been to expose cracks in the Western alliance systems, and the Turkish incursions put NATO in an ugly spot: either the alliance has to make a show of force to protect its member-state’s sovereignty, and so risk conflict with aggressive Russian forces, or it risks appearing to be a paper tiger. Putin may be gambling that Western aversion to the former is strong enough that he can start applying pressure—hopefully, the Kremlin might think, leading to the latter.

And if NATO chooses option B, it wouldn’t just be damaging in its own right: it would likely encourage more such behavior. If Putin thinks he’s found another soft spot in the Western alliance system, he’s going to keep pushing. It’s what he does.

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  • Tom

    Is anyone surprised by any of this?

    • Blackbeard

      Obama is surprised.

      There are many advantages for Putin here but there big win, and the ultimate goal, is control of the world oil market. Putin, together with Iran and Iran’s terrorist proxies, is demonstrating that the U.S., NATO, and the Europeans generally, are worthless as allies. Saudi Arabia will get this message and acquiesce to Russian and Iranian demands to slash production and jack up prices. This will be an object lesson to Eastern Europe and the increased oil revenues will fund whatever adventures Russian and Iran would like to try.

      • Andrew Allison

        Yup.

  • Greg Olsen

    A reasonable show of force by NATO, illuminating Russian jets with the Radar of a SAM battery in Turkey, would be a first step to encouraging Russian respect for Turkish airspace. As to making life difficult for the Russians in Syria, it would require transferring man-portable SAM capability and advanced anti-tank missiles to insurgents in Syria, which is something that needs to be considered very carefully. Those SAMs may end up being used to shoot down airliners in terrorist acts.

    • CapitalHawk

      Why would we do that? Just to be anti-Russian? As far as I can tell the USA is not *for* anyone in the Syrian civil war. We just seem to think we can make all of the combatants lose at the same time or something. Russia definitely is *for* Assad’s regime and they are acting like it.

      • Greg Olsen

        You can have all parties lose. It is called an inconclusive termination of a conflict due to military exhaustion. That frankly is the best outcome to the conflict from the US perspective. If Russia is forced to retreat as it was in Afghanistan, then their bid for regional influence will have failed. Wars can conclude one of two ways, decisively with a victor or inconclusively by military exhaustion.

        The downside to this approach is that it will produce a humanitarian disaster of tremendous scale. Russian methods will be brutal. They have a vested interest in increasing refugee flows to Europe.

        We are reaping what was sown in the Iraq War and the aftermath. To think that a democratic state could be built was pure folly and there was no thought to what would come after when Saddam was deposed. Compound that with the reflexive Jeffersonianism of the current administration, and have squandered any modicum of US influence in the region on the assumption that what happens there really doesn’t threaten US interests. We are forcing a reset of European and regional powers’ expectations of US willingness to provide global security.

  • CapitalHawk

    Obama has been encouraging this sort of behavior for years. It’s just that Putin has finally come around to believing Obama.

  • gabrielsyme

    One might argue that supporting the United States’ archenemy al-Qaeda (albeit only its Syrian branch) and other Islamist forces is a far greater provocation than anything the Russians have done – which is exactly what Turkey has done, while also attacking the only reliable pro-Western force in Syria (the Kurds) and according to at least one credible report, betraying American-trained forces over to al-Qaeda.

    Who is really being more helpful in the region?

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