After Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber on November 24, many observers picked sides, supporting either Putin or Erdogan. However, neither country deserves full support.
Shooting down the warplane was a laudable and a well justified decision on Turkey's part, yet it does not excuse Erdogan’s character and his policies, which are no better than Putin’s.
I'll discuss that in a forthcoming post; for now, here's why Turkey was justified -- and why both opinions aren't mutually exclusive:
Around 2003, Putin became determined to make Russia a power that would counter Western interests, by trying to reestablish the old USSR's spheres of influence. Russia's domestic state-owned media portrayed the West as a natural enemy, one which seeks every opportunity to destroy Russia's unique culture.
In 2008, as Georgia, an independent state near Russia, announced its intentions to join NATO and the EU, Putin provoked a war with Georgia and seized part of its territory.
In 2014, Ukraine overthrew its corrupt, authoritarian and anti-Western leader Yanukovich, and took steps towards integration into the EU. Putin responded by invading Eastern Ukraine and annexing Crimea. Ever since, Russian propaganda has portrayed Ukraine as an agent of the US, which wants to help NATO invade and destroy Russia.
The chief anchorman of Russian television, D. Kiselyov, reported that “Russia can turn America into radioactive ash."
In the TV documentray Crimea: The Way Home, Putin said he was prepared to use nuclear weapons to take Crimea.
M. Vanin, Russian ambassador to Denmark, has been quoted as saying that, “Danish military ships will become targets for Russian nuclear missiles."
In August, 2015, WCIOM, the main Russian polling agency, claimed that 59% of Russians see the US as “extremely hostile."
A poll by Levada Centre in January 2015, reported that 81% of Russians perceive the US negatively.
These numbers have grown proportionally as anti-Western propaganda has intensified, starting in 2014, to justify Putin's attack on Ukraine to the public.
The Russian government, including Putin and the security advisor N. Patrushev, incessantly claim that the US themselves started the war in Ukraine, and the Russian State Duma deputy E. Fyodorov claims that, “The US invaded Ukraine to exterminate its population."
Putin, to demonstrate his military “superiority” over the NATO, has been continually testing and provoking it by violating its airspace. In 2014, Russia violated NATO space over 100 times, and according to the British government, “only Russia” does that.
Russian propaganda boasts of these incidents; the Russian state mint even issued a special coin, commemorating the diving of a Russian SU-24 bomber over the American USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea on April 12, 2014. During that incident, the warplane “imitated” a missile attack against the ship 12 times.
All these incidents indicate that Putin is simply bullying NATO and testing its patience, while using his actions to present a bold image at home and abroad. He got away with invading Ukraine and annexing part of its territory without serious repercussions from the West (apart from relatively weak economic sanctions.)
Especially given that Russia has previously violated Turkish airspace on October 3 and 4 -- when a Russian warplane locked its targeting radar on a Turkish jet for several minutes, resulting in an international scandal -- I maintain that Turkey did the right thing by shooting down the Russian plane.
Some may claim that Russia is fighting ISIS in that region, but according to NATO intelligence, over 90% of its airstrikes have targeted moderate opposition forces, not ISIS or jihadist rebel positions.
Putin is not in the region to fight ISIS. Neither is Turkey. It is wrong to see the incident as Turkey’s attempt to hinder Russia's anti-Islamist mission.
(In Part Two, I'll address Erdogan’s position, his relations with Russia and his role in the Syrian conflict.)
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