This act is legal in accordance with the rules of engagement Turkey declared after one of its military aircraft was downed over the eastern Mediterranean in 2012 and it is as legitimate as it is legal. However, given this move’s devastating military, diplomatic, political and economic consequences — which were not hard to predict from the very beginning — whether the first thing to do was to shoot down a Russian plane that violated our airspace only very briefly is quite questionable.
If we treat this incident, which has led to a major international crisis, merely as an action taken as a consequence of the violation of the rules of engagement, we would certainly find it hard to explain the downing of the Russian aircraft from a military, political and diplomatic perspective but not necessarily from a legal or technical standpoint. In the final analysis, the airspace and air boundaries of many countries are frequently violated by the warplanes of neighboring countries. If every aircraft violating airspace was shot down, then there would not be any country that was not at war with another today and neighboring countries would not be at peace with each other.
We don’t have to go too far to find concrete examples in this respect. If all cases of violations of airspace over the Aegean Sea, which is subject to numerous disputes over the continental shelf, flight information region (FIR) lines and the statuses of islands and islets between Turkey and Greece, had led to downing of aircraft, then hundreds of warplanes from the Turkish and Greek air forces would have been shot down.
Frequent and numerous cases of airspace violations over the Aegean Sea that occurred even during the tensest periods between Turkey and Greece did not go beyond encounters that the pilots will tell to their children and grandchildren in the future as an example of an adventure. The crisis that came into being on Tuesday is a tremendous scandal that did not occur even between these two tense neighbors during decades of open hostility.
Moreover, Russia is not a country that Turkey has treated as a hostile country like Greece and Turkey had never been a country whose territory and national security was threatened by Russia until Tuesday. Here we are talking about two friendly countries whose economic, commercial, political and diplomatic ties are relatively advanced. Turkey and Russia may have serious differences in terms of their preferences in global policy and in their domestic political regimes but their bilateral trade volume is around $40 billion, they have good tourism relations and they are interdependent in many areas, including energy and food. Despite serious international crises like those in Syria, Georgia and Ukraine, they have managed to maintain good neighborly relations so far.
Regardless of discrepancies in their political, diplomatic, economic and strategic perspectives about global issues, the two countries have long been paying heed to their mutual sensitivities and carefully avoiding any intentional confrontation about sensitive matters and maintaining an atmosphere of mutual trust and peace that allows their citizens to travel to each other’s countries without visas under a bilateral agreement. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Syria policy that seeks to banish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from government is in conflict with Russia’s policy of protecting and supporting Assad, but thanks to the compartmentalization of issues, the two countries have been able to maintain good bilateral relations. In other words, Russia has not been a country for Turkey to shoot down its aircraft due to a 17-second airspace violation.
There is no doubt that the people in the political and military decision-making processes know this fact better than us journalists. If this is so, then who felt the need to make a move that would lead to irreparable damages in bilateral relations and regional security in the short and medium terms and why? Who gave this politically motivated decision, which has pushed the entire world to a more uncertain and unstable position by creating tremendous global risks and threats due to Turkey’s NATO membership, and with what motivation?
This decision — which will have consequences that require much time and energy to repair — was made by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, apparently, as he announced during his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday. However, the fact that the first official statement about the matter came from Erdoğan’s palace early in the morning of Tuesday implies that the decision-maker may not be who was advertised. This statement — which put Turkey strategically in a difficult position by declaring the nationality of the downed aircraft as Russian — coming from the palace challenges the identity of the declared decision-maker as well as the implied motivation.
If this tension, crisis or war — which is apparently intended to be kept limited — is Erdoğan’s war, as is thought, then it is easier to make sense of the very motivation, purposes and scope of this war. In this case, it is necessary to analyze in depth its aspects that concern both domestic and international politics.
First of all, a controlled crisis or war that could be contained would help Erdoğan establish an unlawful one-man regime in Turkey with a fait accompli and consolidate it with de facto steps. It would hard to question, criticize or oppose Erdoğan’s dictatorial moves in case of a war or even serious tension. It would be easier to stigmatize dissident people and groups as terrorists or traitors and silence them under the pretext of the war or crisis. A brief look at Hitler’s Germany or post-revolutionary Iran is enough to show us that new regimes are consolidated only thanks to war conditions. But it should also be noted that crises or wars can quickly get out of control even if the initial intention is to keep them controlled or limited.
What I am trying to get at is that the Erdoğan regime might have relied on Turkey’s NATO membership and calculated that tension with Russia — which the international balance of power will not allow to get out of control — will facilitate the process of establishing a one-man regime in Turkey. If this is the case — i.e., if the intention is to change the domestic political scene with induced foreign tension — then this will not be the first of Erdoğan’s camouflaged tricky moves.
As you know, the Erdoğan regime has reluctantly taken part in the alliance against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) due to the international community’s sensitivities and pressures. However, the Erdoğan regime has used this legitimacy to conduct cross-border operations — with the given purpose of striking ISIL targets — rarely against ISIL but overwhelmingly against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist organization and its Syrian offshoot. The Erdoğan regime has labeled the Hizmet movement a “terrorist organization,” even though the civil society organization (CSO) in question has never been involved in any violent incident, and has been waging a witch hunt against innocent civilians, but it refrains from moving its finger not only against ISIL and al-Qaeda units beyond its borders but also against ISIL and al-Qaeda units inside Turkey.
On the other hand, the rumors about the Erdoğan regime’s direct or indirect facilitator role in the strengthening of ISIL and al-Qaeda-linked radical groups in Turkey is being tossed around in the international community and during the G-20 summit meeting in Antalya, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly stated that some G-20 member countries support ISIL, without naming them. Referring to ISIL’s trucks carrying oil that have been hit by Russian aircraft and missiles, he clearly implied that one of these countries is Turkey. This unexpected move from Putin during the summit, where the world’s leading powers discussed possible joint operations against the terrorist organization ISIL, was apparently not one Erdoğan could accept. If the palace was involved in the downing of the Russian aircraft in some way or other, you can be assured that the very seeds of this move were sown during the G-20 summit.
The rest would have been about finding an excuse with which to convince the domestic public. To this end, the tragedy of the Bayır-Bucak Turkmens was used. The deplorable state of the Bayır-Bucak Turkmens, sandwiched between attacks from two sides close to the common border between Syria and Turkey, of course, demands all forms of solidarity. But given the fact that the Erdoğan regime did not turned a hair in the face of Turkmens being killed by ISIL and even refused to let them enter Turkey, its unexpectedly surging love for Turkmens raises suspicions.
The downing of the Russian aircraft indicates that the risks and threats posed by the Erdoğan regime’s misguided Syrian policy — shaped by personal ambitions rather than the national interest — against Turkey and the international community won’t end here. However, the tension with Russia has another dimension, which must be emphasized. Being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), immediately following the downing of its aircraft, Russia demanded that the UN launch an investigation into possible political, military and financial relations between the Erdoğan regime and ISIL and similar radical terrorist organizations.
If Russia manages to make the UN start such an international investigation, it is not difficult to predict how this process will end. What happened to Syria and the Assad regime, accused with concrete evidence following the findings of a UN investigation commission about the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, may give you some serious clues. Moreover, what has happened in Syria — where weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical gas, have been used over the last four years — is graver than the assassination of Hariri.
If the international legal mechanisms are set in motion, Russia and its regional and international allies like the Assad regime will be eager to provide the evidence and documents that might be needed. We will see if this war waged by Erdoğan — who has already done great damage to Turkey and innocent Turkish people — will end in victory or defeat for Erdoğan. I hope God protects Turkey and the people in the region from the wrath and destruction caused by personal wars waged for personal ambitions.