Turkey’s Intentions Behind the Downing of a Russian Jet

Trent University’s Baris Karaagac explains why Turkey would risk a close business relationship with Russia and assist Islamic extremists in Syria

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

We’re continuing our conversation with Baris Karaagac. He’s a lecturer in international development studies at Trent University in Ontario. Thanks so much for joining us again, Baris.

BARIS KARAAGAC: Thanks for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So Baris, we didn’t get an opportunity to really unpack what the Russian president Vladimir Putin said after the downing of the plane. He said it was, quote, “a stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists.” What is he really saying there, Baris? Because are there any real signs that Turkey is helping ISIS at all?

KARAAGAC: Well of course, in that quote Putin is accusing Turkey of aiding the Islamist militants or Islamist groups in Syria. There is truth to that statement. Turkey has been doing this for some time. Actually, a confession came from the Turkish president today, Erdogan, when he said in, with reference to the trucks that were stopped right before the Syrian border in 2014, he said, well, in a way admitted, he confessed that those weapons, those trucks, were going to the opposition forces in Syria. And based on reports that, based on the report–you know, the writings and witnessing of several journalists in the region, we know that many of those weapons went to the hands or ended up in the hands of Islamist militants. And again, Turkey has been providing various kinds of assistance to multiple organizations and groups, militant groups in Syria, for a few years right now.

And Turkey–also for example, you can see that in the recruitment of ISIS of many militants, in addition to many other militant Islamic groups in Turkey recently. So Putin is emphasizing a very important point in terms of the relationship between the Turkish state and opposition/groups/Islamists in Syria.

DESVARIEUX: And Baris, this could really potentially mean a big shift in what we’ve seen develop over the past week. Before this incident there was really a spirit of rapprochement between the U.S.-led coalition forces and Russia. And there were negotiations in Vienna last week. They were talking about a political transition in Syria. And really, a strategy to fight ISIS. But now after this incident where do you see negotiations headed?

KARAAGAC: That’s an excellent question. It is difficult to foresee how both sides are going to respond to this incident. NATO has called for calm. But Russia, it seems to be quite furious. But despite this rapprochement, I think there’s still some divergence in terms of the objectives that are to be achieved in the case of Syria and the Syrian conflict. This has a lot to do with the Russian objectives themselves. Russia has actually a more limited objective, more limited objectives in Syria.

First of all, instead of, again, helping Syrian, Assad forces capture the lost territory and re-establish Syria, in the near future Russia wants a functioning state that is possibly led by Assad or the Ba’athist regime. So it wants some stability in already Alawite-dominated, controlled areas in the region. Secondly, I think the second Russian objective in the region is to reassert, or increase, Russian influence in the Middle East. And now we have seen the establishment of a number of military bases by Russia. Russia has become a significant military actor on the conflict, et cetera. And thirdly, I think Russia with its intervention in the conflict, and particularly in its attack of the Islamist groups, wanted to change the conversation from that on Ukraine to threats in Syria. And to a great extent, so far Russia, it seems to have been successful in achieving these three objectives.

But from now on, we–it is difficult to foresee how things are going to unfold. First of all, an important thing that needs to be mentioned within the context of what happened today. Right after the downing of the plane the Russian state announced that from now on if any plane that violates the Syrian airspace is perceived as a threat, it will be shot down. It will be downed by Russian forces. And remember that–you know, this is actually a threat against Turkish planes. So if such a thing happens, it might be legitimate or illegitimate, it’s difficult to say, foresee that. If such a thing happens then if a Turkish plane is downed by Russians, how is Turkey going to respond to this? More importantly, how is NATO, of which Turkey is a member, going to respond to this? Remember, according to Article Five of the NATO treaty, if a member state is attacked it’s an attack against the entire alliance.

So we’re swimming in really dangerous waters right now.

DESVARIEUX: Very dangerous, very volatile, Baris. Let’s quickly address how this could affect Turkey’s relationship with the United States. Some argue, we’ve had guests here on the Real News talk about the reason the United States is even so adamant that Assad has to go and can’t be part of peace negotiations is really because of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two American allies who are against the Assad regime. So do you see this incident maybe moving the West to the possibility of reconsidering that? Would President Obama consider shifting his view after this news?

KARAAGAC: Well, recently Americans–at least it seems that Americans were more–they’re willing to include Assad in the negotiations about the future of Syria. But now it’s–and that also, with the entry of Russians into the picture Americans, I think they feel in a way more pressured to include Assad in such negotiations. But from now on, I really don’t know. And it’s difficult to foresee how the future will unfold. We’ll see how for the West, or the Western alliance, in particular the United States, will respond to what is happening right now.

DESVARIEUX: All right. We’ll certainly be tracking it as well. Baris, thank you so much for joining us.

KARAAGAC: Thanks for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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