Bad, worse, or ugly. What are the prospects of the short-run Russo-Turkish bilateral relations change?

Ivan Chikalo

Intern at Caucasian House

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and may not coincide with the official position of Caucasian House

 

The 24 November, 2015 two Turkish F-16 jest shoot down a Russian Su-24 bomber supposedly in the Turkish air space. The incident with the Su-24 bomber was a predictable event taking into account preceding incidents of the Russian jets trespassing the Turkish airspace, the shot down of the ‘unidentified’ Russian made drone by Turkey, and the public warnings made by Ankara.[1]

Hence, what happened was just a question of time. Is it a clash of wills, when Putin and Erdogan could rattle their sabers, giving the massive public support in their home countries and having little maneuver and will to step back? The today’s top question is how would the situation develop and what are the major scenarios?

The victory of the Erdogan’s party in the latest elections was due to the mobilization of the nationalistic and chauvinistic moods among the public. Meanwhile, the record approve rating of the Russian president, which, again, are due to the similar moods in the society, the public discourse in both Russia and Turkey would not allow for the rational cold-minded response. Moreover, the approval of the public would only boost the escalation and make an issue a matter of a national pride. Thus, the probable scenarios of a near future development range from a bad to a catastrophic.

 

Scenario #1: The economic

The economic cooperation between two states were steadily rising since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It would not be a mistake to say that in the year 2014 reached its peak. Good personal relations between the President of Russia and the President of Turkey backed economy, energy, tourism, agriculture, and military cooperation.

Turkey is a major destination for Russian tourists – the visitors with the red passport and the golden double-headed eagle on it bring more than 5 billion USD each year.[2] The latest news suggest stop of the selling and annulment of the tours to Turkey by the major Russian touristic companies. Although, it is not the high season, but the consequences would be evident soon.

The next in line is the cooperation in the energy sector. For starters, Turkey is the second largest consumer of the Russian natural gas after Germany. Hence, the dependency is considerable and any limitations imposed by Gazprom would be a ‘knife stabbed in a back’. Moreover, the ‘Turkish Stream’ – a pipeline that should become an alternative root for the Russian gas in to European customers is now also under the threat of annulment. Finally, the building of the nuclear power plant ‘Akkuyu’, which is funded and build by the RosAtom, the Russian nuclear power state corporation, could become another considerable economic blow for the both sides.

Other main spheres of the economic cooperation is the Turkish export of the agricultural products to Russia and construction business operating in Russia. The Russian government agency for the goods safety, Rospotrebnadzor, has already started to ‘check’ the Turkish agricultural goods on having harmful chemical substances.[3]

It is obvious that the economic warfare is already started and would lead to the drop of the mutual trade, possible closure of the construction projects and the theoretical ban for the Russian tourists to visit Turkey. All of those measures would have considerable impact on the both states, especially during the economic hardships through which both economies are going.

 

Scenario #2: The proxy-war

It seems that the scenario of  proxy war between Russia and Turkey is the most likely, because both sides have already taken steps towards this direction. Yesterday the ‘unknown’ Su-24 planes bombed the Turkish humanitarian convoy that was supposedly transporting ammunition to the pro-Turkish rebels. Moreover, the official Kremlin’s reasoning for the Su-24 shot down incident are the Russian airstrikes on the ISIS oil fields. It is not a secret that Turkey and Lebanon are the major consumers of the smuggled oil, hence having an incentive to preserve them intact. Finally, after the incident with the Russian bomber, Russia reportedly carpet-bombed the areas where pro-Turkish rebels supposedly were located.

The full-scale proxy-war could lead to the Russian ground troops placement in Syria. Although, President Putin continues to deny the possibility of the Russian ground troops military operation, but as the Donbas and the Crimean experiences show it is a viable option for the Kremlin.

Finally, the precedent with the bomber already provoked the ‘rally around the flag’ reaction among the Russian public that resulted, for now, in stoning the Turkish embassy in Moscow. Hence, the public would be willing to accept more involvement. For example, the deployment of the C-400 ‘Triumph’ the anti-aircraft missile system and the expected arrival of the cruiser ‘Moskava’ – the lead ship of the Black Sea Fleet – would definitely change the balance of power in Syria and allow Russia to have full control of the Syrian air space. Therefore, all the flights of the international coalition members would be agreed with Moscow. Thus, a single downed NATO jet would be able to provoke a full-scale war between Russian and the Alliance.

 

Scenario #3: The war

Although the war, is the most unlikely scenario, nevertheless, considering that the economic and the proxy-war scenarios already partially enacted, there is a possibility of the incident similar to the Russian bomber, but with a NATO jet playing a main part. As long as the article 5 of the NATO alliance agreement states that an attack on an any member of the alliance is considered as an attack to the entire alliance, it could become the first precedent of such sort since the 9/11 attacks. Nevertheless, it should be taken into account that the article 5 does not have an automatic power and should be enacted by the member state. Hence, there is a possibility that the attacked country would not ask for the assistance from NATO.

While, the first scenario is straight-forward and includes the doom day, but the second option, when a member country steps back, does not and could be diplomatically resolved. Nevertheless, the diplomatic resolution would put in to a question NATO’s status as unified security organization and become a dangerous precedent of not reacting for a threat.

 

Conclusion

The three scenarios discussed are only a couple of the most possible options. For example, the scenario of the ‘forgiving and forgetting’ and the creation of the unified anti-ISIS coalition that would not allow for the further escalation is also possible. However, it seems that the ‘game theory’ is what is really going on in Syria right now. Hence, the results depend only on the parties involved and giving the differences in the strategies currently applied by the powers in Syria the number of possible options approaches infinity.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the Russo-Turkish relations are experiencing the major crisis since the 20th century. Hence, a Russia’s friend and an ally in the NATO became its theoretical enemy. For now, the win-win scenario looks unrealistic. Therefore, the both states going to face the economic losses and a bilateral relations deterioration. Since the economic and the proxy-war scenario are already put in to a place, chances for the mutual reconciliation die out each day.

 

 

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[1] http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/6a69996c-6c2d-11e5-8171-ba1968cf791a.html#axzz3siOtcpZE

[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-26/turkey-without-russian-tourists-strikes-economy-where-it-s-weak

[3] http://news.yahoo.com/russia-holding-turkish-goods-border-relations-sour-101020011–finance.html

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