Did the Cold War just come to a simmer?
The Turkish military shot down a Russian warplane on Tuesday near the Syrian border in "the first time a NATO member has downed a Russian plane in a half-century," the Associated Press reports.
The Turkish government asserted that Russia had "repeatedly" violated the country's airspace, Reuters reports, while Russian President Vladimir Putin called the downing a "stab in the back" that would have "serious consequences."
This may seem like an accident (and it likely is), but it comes with some serious historical context, per Reuters:
Russia's decision to launch separate air strikes in Syria mean Russian and NATO planes have been flying combat missions in the same air space for the first time since World War Two, targeting various insurgent groups close to Turkish borders.
A U.S. official said U.S. forces were not involved in the downing of the Russian jet, which was the first time a Russian or Soviet military aircraft has been publicly acknowledged to have been shot down by a NATO member since the 1950s.
Russia has only recently joined the air campaign against ISIS in Syria, and Russian jets joined French warplanes in pounding terror targets this month in the aftermath of the Paris attacks which left 130 dead. But despite hopes that the threat of ISIS terror would force the West and Russia to work together after decades of geopolitical anxiety, the Turkish shootdown has put any potential collaboration in jeopardy.
“We understand that everyone has their own interests but we won’t allow such crimes to take place,” Putin said of the incident during talk with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Sochi on Tuesday, Bloomberg reports. “We received a stab in the back from accomplices of terrorism.”
“[Instead] of immediately making the necessary contact with us, the Turkish side turned to their partners in NATO for talks on this incident,” he added. “It’s as if we shot down the Turkish plane and not they ours. Do they want to put NATO at the service of Islamic State?”
By accusing Turkey of aiding ISIS, Putin is ratcheting up prior tensions over Western and Russian tensions over intervention in Syria. While Western countries have tended to support the rebel factions waging war on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia favors collaboration with the Assad regime as the only effective approach to stamp out ISIS. These difference came to a head during dueling speeches from President Obama and Putin the UN General Assembly in September during Putin's first appearance there in 10 years, where Putin decried Western opposition to the Assad regime as "an enormous mistake."
Things may get even worse than harsh rhetoric, though. It's worth noting that Article 5 of the NATO charter mandates that all member nations come to defense of each other, so far that "an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies." Should Russia decide to retaliate against Turkey, the U.S. and other NATO members are legally obligated to get involved in the conflict. While Article 5 hasn't been invoked ever in the history of NATO with the exception of 9/11, it seems unlikely that this will happen, but it's concerning nonetheless.
Given the tenuous relationship between Russia and the West even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the sight of Russian jets against ISIS alongside U.S. and French forces in recent weeks has been something of a godsend for international relations. But with the first downing of a Russian warplane by a NATO country in a half-century, it looks as though our relationship with Russia is going to get way worse before it gets better.
Photos by AP