Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet last month near the Turkish-Syrian border has led to a widening war of words between the erstwhile friendly countries, and added yet another dangerous wrinkle to the unresolved Syrian civil war. While the incident was the ostensible tipping point for the sudden downturn in Ankara-Moscow relations, the bond had already reached a breaking point over the divergent courses pursued in a Syrian conflict that has so-far stymied diplomatic solutions.
In his annual State of the Nation speech on Dec. 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he still could not understand why Turkey had shot down the Russian Su-24 bomber, killing two servicemen aboard.
“We could have solved all questions, issues, contradictions … in a wholly different way,” Putin said. “Moreover, we were willing to cooperate with Turkey on the most sensitive issues and were ready to accommodate it more than its own allies would. Only Allah knows why they did it. And Allah apparently wanted to punish Turkey’s ruling claque by taking away its reason and consciousness.”
But Putin’s strident language aside, what he called Turkey’s “stab in the back” was no accident.
The relationship between him and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had already grown dangerously strained. Erdogan was said to have complained that Putin did not given him enough time during a short visit to Moscow last September, and left him in the dark about Russia’s imminent airstrikes in Syria. Most important, however, is that Russia’s military intervention in Syria undercut Ankara’s policies and threatened its interests in a region that Erdogan and his associates regard as Turkey’s “near abroad.” The rest is mere icing on the cake. ...