NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned Russian planes on Tuesday for a second “incursion” of Turkey’s airspace, saying the violation “does not seem like an accident,” but “reckless behavior.”
When the first “incursion” was reported to have happened on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made stern accusations against Moscow, and US Secretary of State John Kerry chimed in with Erdogan, saying the “incursion” “is precisely the kind of thing that had Turkey responded under its rights could have resulted in a shoot-down.”
Conducted under the request of the Syrian government, Russia’s high-profile involvement in the air raids against the Islamic State (IS) since late September has shocked the entire Middle East and the Western Hemisphere. The military action marks Russia’s first air strike beyond the Commonwealth of the Independent States since the end of the Cold War.
It shows the determination of the Vladimir Putin administration, and reflects Russia’s independent use of military prowess for intervention.
Violation of airspace can hardly be avoided if air operations are conducted in a narrow airspace. How to define and respond to these “violations” depends on the mutual trust and cooperativeness of both sides.
Russia’s strategic aim in Syria is poles apart from the West’s. Although sharing the same objective to eradicate the IS, Moscow backs Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while the West wants the regime to collapse as much as they want to uproot the IS.
Russia needs more prudence to launch military actions in Syria, and to strictly target the IS. Russia couldn’t afford the price if it “accidentally” bombed a hospital controlled by Syria’s rebels backed by some Western countries.
Russia’s continuous bombardments against the IS will serve as strong support for Assad, who will be able to spare more military assets to fight against the rebels.
Since Russia clearly states its military operations in Syria target terrorists, due to the lack of sufficient reasons to oppose this, Washington holds a generally vague attitude toward Moscow.
But as Assad gains an edge in the civil war, Washington’s opposition will be more revealing. Moscow has shown its strong leverage in the Middle East, and if the Assad government has been stabilized, this will unsettle Washington and the situation will trigger more tensions.
Syria has met a complication of thorny issues, and none of them can be resolved overnight.
Overturning the current Syrian government has proven unrealistic from the very beginning of the Syrian crisis. However, it is the intention of toppling the Assad regime that gave rise to the IS and led to the migrant crises.
Russia’s efforts to fight the IS will help reinforce the Assad regime, but Moscow’s involvement is called for by most countries fearing the IS. It is also, in a sense, favorable to the US.
If the verbal disputes escalate into a military confrontation between NATO and Russia, this would be the most ridiculous war to have happened in the years after WWII.