It has been a wild 36 hours when it comes to the increasingly complex tapestry of major international players taking part in combat operations in Syria. On one hand, Russia may be warming to integrating its forces into a single air campaign with the U.S., France and other nations. Yet at the same time, Russian-Turkish relations continue to sour over the shooting down of a Russian attack jet.
The real possibility of Russia joining the U.S.-led coalition came after France’s President François Hollande met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Coming off the Paris attacks, the move marked the possibility of rebuilding the relationship between the two countries that has been mired by sanctions and military equipment embargoes following Russia’s invasion of Crimea in early 2014.
Putin himself seemed to make the first move shortly after the Paris attacks, calling for total cooperation with the French military’s move to up its bombing campaign in Syria before yesterday’s high-level visit occurred.
Now, with Putin stating that he is open to cooperating with the U.S. led coalition, beyond just the French, the Obama Administration’s emerging hopes that a political solution can be found to rid Syria of the Assad regime, something that Russia probably has more control over than Assad himself at this point, are more plausible than ever.
Still, merely saying Russia is open to joining forces with the U.S. is a far cry from actually implementing such a coalition, not to mention holding it together long enough to be productive. The world will have to wait and see if something concrete can be put in place, although Russia’s questionable targeting practices and use of dumb bombs almost exclusively in its air war over Syria may be critical stumbling blocks.
Another hurdle could be Turkey, a NATO member, which is embroiled in a shouting match with Moscow over its downing of an Su-24 attack jet. Russia has called the event an ambush.
Meanwhile, Turkey is not apologizing for anything, also claiming that Russia had been repeatedly bombing Turkmen in the area where the Su-24 was shot down, claiming they were ISIS. Still, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called Putin since the downing of Russia’s jet, but the Russian leader didn’t pick up the phone. Moscow has said it won’t answer because Erdogan is not ready to apologize.
Within just a few days, Russia has followed through with one of its planned military responses to the incident, deploying its S-400 “Triumph” missile batteries to Syria, an act that threatens aircraft flying all over the region.
Additionally, Russia is touting its aging Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, the cruiser Moskova’s S-300 anti-air capabilities. Currently the Moskova is loitering off the Syrian coast near Russia’s base south of the Syrian port city of Latakia.
Beyond deploying its most advanced air defense system to Syria, one that can reach aircraft far into Turkish airspace, Russia is also seeking to punish Turkey economically, halting a slew of joint Russian-Turkish business deals and building projects. Russia has also told its citizens not to travel to Turkey for pleasure and it has been announced that the visa-free travel agreement between the two countries will be suspended on January first. The Russian military industrial complex has been ordered not to buy materials from Turkey, and reports are circulating that Turkish businessmen attending trade shows in Moscow have been detained, an act President Erdogan equates to “playing with fire.”
Although these moves are substantial and economically troubling, the most feared Russian response, aside from direct military engagement, would be for Russia to turn off its energy exports to Turkey. These make up over half the country’s natural gas needs and 30 percent of its oil. As such, Russia could make Turkey’s citizens suffer a very cold winter if they so choose.
So far there has been no indication that Russia will cut off energy supplies to Turkey over the shoot-down, but if things escalate, or another incident occurs, it may be Moscow’s biggest card to play when it comes to retribution against Turkey.
In other developments, Germany has finally moved to engage in the anti-ISIS campaign after French appeals, albeit in a support role, not a shooting one. This will include a frigate to help protect France’s only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, that currently fielding airstrikes from the Mediterranean into Syria, as well as A310 multi-role tanker transports for aerial refueling and Panavia Tornado ECRs for reconnaissance only.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.
Photos via AP