Turkey prepares for Russian retaliation after jet incident

Friday 27/11/2015
Retaliatory action by Russia could hurt Turkey economically

ISTANBUL - Turkey insists it was with­in its rights when it shot down a Russian jet on the Syrian border but the action could have far-reaching consequences in Ankara’s relations with Moscow and further complicate the diplomatic and mil­itary morass over Syria.
“This incident took place com­pletely within rules of engagement that were clear beforehand,” Turk­ish President Recep Tayyip Er­dogan said after Turkish F-16 jets shot down a Russian SU-24 war­plane near the southern Turkish province of Hatay on November 24th.
Turkey and Russia are in oppos­ing camps in the Syrian conflict, with Ankara calling for an end to the rule of President Bashar Assad and Russia supporting the Syrian leader. Before the downing of the Russian jet, both countries were determined to maintain good re­lations despite sharp differences over Syria. The incident on the border has shattered that tacit un­derstanding.
Erdogan accused Russia of us­ing the stated aim of fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) militia as a pretext to bomb other groups in Syria, including moderate Syrian Turkmen rebels, an ethnic group linked to Turkey in north-western Syria, where the Russian SU-24 was brought down.
Russian President Vladimir Pu­tin accused Turkey of a “stab in the back” and of helping terrorists in Syria. Moscow suspended military cooperation with Ankara and sent a guided missile cruiser to the wa­ters off the Syrian coast.
Erdogan signalled Turkey was ready to overcome the crisis. “We have no intention to escalate this incident,” he said. “Turkey is not on the side of tension, crisis and hostility but has always stood on the side of peace, dialogue and di­plomacy.”
Retaliatory action by Russia could hurt Turkey economically, observers say. As Turkey is heav­ily dependent on Russian natural gas for its energy needs, any move by Moscow to restrict or stop the flow of gas could bring Turkey to a standstill.
“The Russians have 100% con­trol” over gas supplies, the Hurri­yet newspaper quoted an unnamed representative of the natural gas sector as saying. Another concern for Ankara is a possible boycott by Russian tourists, 4 million of whom visit Turkey and its beaches every year.
With so much at stake, Turkey and Russia should try everything they can to contain the crisis, Me­hmet Barlas, a columnist close to Erdogan, wrote in the Sabah news­paper. Both countries should not “make the atmosphere of dialogue and friendship a victim of the ina­bility of an ignorant military pilot”.