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Turkey has shot down a Russian jet. this was the first time a NATO jet shot down a Russian one since 1952. Those who grasp the gravity of this have broken out in a cold sweat. Yes, it’s as serious as it sounds.
I don’t know exactly what happened, and truly, no one who really does is going to be talking. Given that this is the kind of thing that can — although probably won’t — expose NATO as a paper tiger, crank the current level of geopolitical hysteria up to 11, and even, in extremis, lead to direct superpower conflict, I don’t think it would be helpful for me to opine about what the United States should do, save to say that I hope wisdom prevails, and urge all concerned to back away from the precipice (as if anyone would listen to me).
Here are things others’ have written about this, but Medvedev apart, I don’t think they know more about it than anyone else. They just had deadlines and had to put words on paper.
Has Vladimir Putin finally overreached? The Russian president is confronting several simultaneous crises. Over the weekend, Ukrainian activists blew up high-voltage transmission towers and cut off electricity supplies to Russian-held Crimea. In St. Petersburg, his home city, on Tuesday a column of 600 heavy trucks was crawling toward the city government building to protest tolls on Russian roads (a son of a close Putin friend has a financial interest in the system). And on the Turkey-Syria border, the Turkish air force downed a Russian bomber. …
Some Turkish officials have ‘direct financial interest’ in the oil trade with the terrorist group Islamic State, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said as he detailed possible Russian retaliation to Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane in Syria on Tuesday.
“Turkey’s actions are de facto protection of Islamic State,” Medvedev said, calling the group formerly known as ISIS by its new name. “This is no surprise, considering the information we have about direct financial interest of some Turkish officials relating to the supply of oil products refined by plants controlled by ISIS.”
“The reckless and criminal actions of the Turkish authorities… have caused a dangerous escalation of relations between Russia and NATO, which cannot be justified by any interest, including protection of state borders,” Medvedev said.
Will Nato be drawn in? Nato held an emergency meeting of its North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s main decision-making body, at Turkey’s request. Ambassadors from 28 member countries met in Brussels for the briefing and to decide on any further action.
The alliance was expected to attempt to de-escalate tensions over Turkey’s actions, despite strong statements in recent months condemning Russian incursions into member states’ airspace in Europe. “The last thing Nato wants right now is a new conflict with Russia with everything else that’s going on,” Mr Sengupta said. ….
The rapid deterioration of global order took an ugly turn this morning and we all moved a little closer to the abyss: Two Turkish F-16s have shot down what appears to be a Russian Su-24 bomber near the Syrian border. Two Russian pilots parachuted out of the plane as it went down in flames. One pilot was captured by Turkmen fighters in Latakia province, with early reports indicating the second pilot did not survive the ordeal. Turkey is claiming the bomber was warned ten times about being in Turkish airspace before it was shot down. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has called for a special consultation with Turkey’s NATO allies. …
It’s now critical that Russia not be allowed to intimidate or pressure Turkey over the episode. That means NATO support. Turkey, unlike Georgia and Ukraine, is a full-fledged NATO member, and failing to stand behind it threatens to unravel the alliance. Putin’s number one goal, we must remember, is to break NATO—or at minimum to show that it is a paper tiger. The slow-moving collapse of the political relationship between the other members and Turkey gives him an opening. The lack of trust over ISIS, and the broader disagreements over how to fight the Syrian war, have undermined Turkey’s relationship with its Western allies. But the fundamental element in the divide between the West and Turkey remains the Islamist and increasingly anti-democratic nature of the Turkish government. All this must, for now, be swept aside. If the Kremlin is prepared to engage in a reasonable and cooperative process to determine responsibility for the incident and follow diplomatic precedent and procedures, then we should meet it half-way. But if Moscow attempts to force Turkey into some kind of capitulation, Ankara needs solid backup. …
President Obama sees Syria as a quagmire ready to engulf the United States, and has believed that the less he deals with the Syrian mess the better. Those are reasonable fears, but the longer the war rages unchecked the more dangerous it becomes—and the worse the President’s choices get. Russia, for its part, has long been using Obama’s unwillingness to engage in confrontations as a tool to force American retreat. The Kremlin’s read is that President Obama is so conflict-averse that Russia can engage in behavior that would otherwise be seen as much too risky. Regardless of whether the plane was in Turkish or Russian airspace at the moment of the downing, this incident is typical of a global pattern of Russian planes testing the limits of what is possible and acceptable. Now that this pattern has produced such a clear conflict point, the U.S.—and the West, generally—must not back down.
My intuition is that both powers will climb down, though. Just a gut feeling based on experience. In the absence of detailed insight about what’s really happening in today’s NATO emergency meetings, the Kremlin, and the Palace, my best guess is that we’ll see a lot of bluster — perhaps for a while, and even perhaps for years — but I don’t think the Fourth World War just began. To say much more would only be contributing to a lot of poorly- or half-informed speculation, so I won’t.
If you’ve been reading about this elsewhere and have any questions about what you’re reading, I might be able to help you sort out who some of the players are and what theories are more apt to be true and why. So feel free to ask. But basically, we won’t really know what’s happening now until the archives are open many years from now. (Or absent that, from a Wikileaks document dump, of which I would of course disapprove — even though, as a journalist, historian, and someone who like all of us would be affected by these events if they spin further out of control, I’d give anything to read what our diplomats and analysts are really thinking right now.)
This is obviously serious, and you would be right to be afraid (and in my view, right to be a lot more afraid than you should be by the relocation of vetted Syrian refugees). A direct NATO-Russian conflict has long been one of the world’s worst nightmares. ISIS is a terrifying nuisance to the West; but Russia, by virtue of the weapons it already has — not “might have,” nor “will inevitably seek” — can destroy our civilization tomorrow, through malice, or, much more likely, miscalculation. And vice-versa, of course. Russian patterns or testing our defenses and will, its aggression, and its salami tactics on the borders of NATO are by now a highly proven pattern and pose — bring on the cliché — a genuinely existential threat to the post war security order. By this, I mean that the relatively stable and prosperous postwar order in which we grew up might well disappear if this keeps up.
I don’t think the odds of this are so high that we should be shrieking and panicking (not that this has ever helped a thing), but I do think they’re high enough that if you’re not feeling a bit sick to your stomach, you’re either totally unflappable or in a bit of denial.
But it does no good to feel sick, unless you’re one of the people with the power to effect this, and I’m not. And if you are, you shouldn’t be talking about it on Ricochet, so put down the Internet and get back to work, please.
Given this depressing news, I thought it would be a good day to remind you that not everything in the world is headed straight for hell.
Twenty-two months after the Ebola outbreak began, Sierra Leone is free of the disease.* Sierra Leone was among the three West African countries hit hardest by the deadliest Ebola epidemic in history. It lasted 22 months and killed more than 11,300 people. Guinea — where the epidemic originated — also had good news; its last known Ebola patient has recovered, and if no new cases are reported, it too will soon be declared Ebola-free.
*Almost. As I wrote this, it was reported that a 15-year-old boy died of Ebola in Liberia — less than three months after the country was declared free of the virus. Given that there were 8,704 laboratory-confirmed cases in the year up to November 24, 2015, this shouldn’t diminish our sense that we have cause for great celebration. This kind of celebration, in fact:
Congratulations, Sierra Leone.