Most of the world raised a curious eyebrow when news broke of a Russian military jet being knocked from the sky by Turkey, resulting in the murder of the Russian pilot and rescue of the fighter’s navigator.
Tensions and mutual accusations continue to be lobbed by all interested parties. While some inquire if this is the spark for igniting the closest we have come in two generations to WWIII, others wonder if this might not be the ‘crisis’ needed to bring disparate sides together for a larger and more dangerous fight? For those who wish to understand just why this incident happened and what will truly emerge as a consequence of it, certain questions need to be answered that so far are barely being asked by the world’s major news organizations. So in the interests of providing the essential framework, the following ten questions are proffered. How well or how poorly the world finds answers to these questions will indicate how deeply or superficially we will understand the complicated and multi-layered relationship between Turkey and the Russian Federation.
1Turkey claims it was simply defending its own sovereign airspace. Does general global hesitancy mean that defending airspace should be put on a sliding scale based on real world power and significance?
2Just exactly how many times did Turkey warn the Russian fighter jet? Will Turkey provide recorded proof of these warnings?
3Exactly how much time did the Russian fighter cross and remain in Turkish airspace? Will radar evidence be presented proving said incursions and time periods?
4Was Turkish impatience and assertiveness explained singularly by incursion into sovereign airspace or is it explained more compellingly by irritation with Russian airstrikes against anti-Assad rebels, whom Turkey tacitly supports?
5Were there in fact bombing strikes by Russian forces in Syria that killed ethnic Turkmen rather than DAESH fighters, something Turkey alleges? Will proof of casualties be produced to support this accusation? If proven, does this explain Turkish impatience with Russia?
6Is it just coincidence that the Russian fighter was shot down exactly in an area where Turkey and Syria have had a long-standing border dispute, and which, in the past, Russia has often sided with the Syrian claims?
7How much political animosity is generated for Turkey toward Russia over the Crimean Tatars, who speak a Turkic language and have generally opposed the secession/annexation of Crimea to Russia? (Especially in the recent aftermath of Tatars blocking the restringing of power lines that were mysteriously blown up, putting nearly the entire Crimean peninsula this past weekend in a total blackout.)
8If Russia ultimately responds by only sending a defensive air-missile system to Syria along with trade and travel restrictions – but no active military response directly against Turkey – will these examples of ‘military restraint’ from Russia be recognized and commended by NATO or disregarded?
9Both Putin and Erdogan have reputations for being brash and aggressive in personality. If this incident only simmers and then fades away in decreasing diplomatic/military importance, does this signify personal agency is not as important a causal factor for explaining state behavior in international affairs as many Western analysts like to claim?
10Does a successful de-escalation of this crisis affirm the argument that the greater fight is against DAESH and thus potentially creates greater cooperation opportunities between unaffiliated actors, like the United States, France, Russia, Iran, Israel, and the Assad government?