The crisis between Ankara and Moscow that started after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that violated Turkish airspace is about to enter a critical phase. Despite attempts by Turkish authorities to de-escalate the crisis and contain and resolve the dispute between the two countries through dialogue and negotiations, responses from Russia are impacting the long-term trajectory of relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual year end press conference yesterday and his statements could be an important juncture for this crisis.
Since the incident, the Turkish public has watched as the Russian media and government escalated the tone of offensive rhetoric regarding Turkey. The first criticism of Turkey turned into conspiracy theories and insults. Economic measures adopted by the Russian government and provocative actions by Russian ships brought the conflict to a more difficult phase. The issue of the downed jet has almost been lost in the Kremlin’s public relations offensive. Instead, the main issue turned into an accusation by the Russian government of Turkey’s support of terrorist organizations. Although most of the evidence provided by members of the Russian administration has been refuted by analysts who use open source materials, somehow, the constant use of this discourse is believed to be impacting Turkey’s image in the world.
According to some reports, 90 percent of Russian operations in Syria do not target DAESH, but rather moderate opposition groups fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and in the narrative he put forth Putin said that “Russia was stabbed in the back” while fighting against DAESH.
After Russia launched its campaign against Turkey in Syria, Moscow stepped up its war efforts by intensifying airstrikes and bringing S400 missile systems into the country. Somehow, Russia expects the international community to stay silent about this increasing war effort because of the downing of its jet. Although some reports show that there was not much territorial gain by the Assad regime following Russia’s intervention in the conflict, at this point it has not seemed to change the viewpoint of the Russian government.
So what will be the next step in the crisis be? The Russian government seems to be taking advantage of the crisis to rally domestic support and increase its military intervention in Syria. So far, Russia has rejected calls for dialogue and conversation by Turkish authorities. However, diversionary policies usually bring short-term hikes in public support and approval ratings for government policies and, in the long run, they have the possibility of generating a boomerang effect, as previous government-sponsored nationalism fails to be satisfied by the foreign and security establishment of the country. In addition to this, considering that the strongest dimension of the relationship between Turkey and Russia has been economic and social, this crisis, in the long run, may create a lose-lose situation for both countries. The offensive rhetoric and economic sanctions can have a higher cost for both countries at the same time. The increasing duration of these types of crises usually generate solidified negative feelings and make dialogue more difficult for policymakers. So while the crisis is in this first phase, instead of trying to add insult to injury, policymakers need to consider the long-term impact of the crisis and find a way to resolve it before it leads to additional costs.
This article was first published in the Daily Sabah on December 19, 2015.