By Parfait Gasana
The question of whether the Russian Jet shot by the Turkish air force was in Turkish or Syrian airspace is one that will need clear, accurate, and verifiable data to prove. With a crowded airspace like the Syrian one now, it is only a matter of time before other similar events take place with perhaps, serious immediate consequences than have so far transpired. One thing that is clear however, is the mucho and dangerous behavior of the Russian air force over the past couple of years.
It is fairly common that once or twice, military jets from one country can mistakenly enter into restricted airspaces of another country. When this happens, often the intruding aircraft are escorted out swiftly and often followed by diplomatic efforts to warn the intruding country of its violation. When it comes to Russia, it has now become a serious problem as their violation of other countries’ airspaces has in the past few months occurred with a high frequency that has now developed into an almost detectable pattern. Both realists and liberals would find much to say about this almost erratic behavior of the Kremlin. The likes of Kissinger, and Mearshimer would say that these are only the vivid signs of a campaign from a country that has grown confident, or even untouchable given the nature of the current world system. Those on the other side of this spectrum would point to this behavior, as desperation from a country that is in decline and that is engaging in this behavior only to show that it is still relevant.
Regardless of where one might stand on the political spectrum, Russia’s behavior should be seen as a potential trigger for a major international crisis that can have serious repercussions to global stability. On one hand, Turkey responded to what they perceived to be Russian violation of their airspace with shooting down the allegedly, violating military aircraft. Militarily, Turkey’s capabilities are nowhere near those of Russia, and the same can be said of the two country’s economies. Russia’s economy stands today at $2 Trillion dollars, whereas that of Turkey is at $800 Billion, and the two countries spend $ 50 billion a year on defense for Russia and $15 billion for Turkey respectively. These numbers show that standing toe to toe, there is no logical reason why Turkey would take such a drastic measure against so powerful a foe. However, when Turkey’s NATO membership is taken into account, the dynamics shift dramatically. This is because NATO’s defense spending, and the economies of NATO member countries, far exceeds that of Russia. One will never know whether this was the thinking of the Turkish military leadership, however, the Kremlin must be aware of the NATO saying that, “an attack on one, is an attack on all”. It is here that the potential international crisis mentioned in the introduction of this brief appears all but certain should Russia choose to retaliate beyond its strong condemnation given by Kremlin. Either NATO will respond in a unified fashion to any Russian move against Turkey, or Russia will read the sign on the wall and refrain from following its verbal condemnation with any serious escalation. The seriousness of this incident was evident in the press conference where Both Presidents Obama and Hollande were asked as the first question, what the downing of the Russian jet, and whether this was going to pull NATO into a war with Russia.
On another hand, if Russia’s incursions into the airspaces of the various countries that it has violated had resulted into these countries shooting down of the Russian jets, Russia would be today in serious diplomatic and military confrontations with more than one powerful countries. As a reference, the U.S. has escorted Russian jets out of its airspace, the same is true for Britain, Sweden, Norway, and others, hence the pattern mentioned at the beginning of this brief.
With the stress put on the Russian economy by the sanctions following its involvement in Ukraine, coupled with the ongoing investigation into the downing of the passenger airplane into the territory controlled by the Russian backed rebels, it is hard not to come up with the conclusion that Russia is involved in one of the most serious chess games any country has ever played. The bigger question here then becomes, what are Russian’s intensions in this whole development? This question is perhaps more relevant to those with the realist bend, where the nature of international relations is widely believed to be anarchic, and where actors are perceived to be rational.