Methinks that the Turks won’t get away with another provocation on the scale of the Russian bomber shootdown… after all, Vova’s on his guard…
Russia and Turkey had the longest series of military conflicts in European history. It lasted between the 16th and 20th centuries; Russia won the overwhelming majority of these 12 wars. Serbian political analyst Bojan Bilbija thought that a thirteenth could be ahead; he asked what decisive factors could lead to it being unleashed in an article for the Serbian online newspaper Politika.
An old Serbian folk saying relates, “When you enter the wrong train, then, all the stations are incorrect”. One could apply this folk wisdom to the relationship between the West and Russia, primarily to the one between Russia, Turkey, and the USA. If one assumes that all three are already in the wrong wagon, then, the prospects of a thirteenth conflict between Moscow and Turkey are much more likely than widely anticipated. However, the unleashing of such a conflict depends on several key factors. Any conflict between Ankara and Russia would be completely irrational without the direct support of Washington. In reality, the Russian forces have at least three to five times quantitative superiority above Turkey in every aspect. Aside from this quantitative advantage, Ankara and NATO should be even more concerned about the number of advanced weapons systems Russia has in its arsenal, which the Turks wouldn’t be able to get for a long while.
However, what could give Turkey hope? The first option is an assertion that a “weakened” Russia doesn’t have enough economic strength to endure a large-scale conflict, and that a “sharp decline in domestic living standards” could lead to the overthrow of the Russian government. Yet, one should keep in mind that the controls over its domestic economy and state budget allow Russia to accumulate significant reserves and provide savings options (without major cuts to domestic social programmes and military investment). Russia has a substantial trade surplus and its huge infrastructure projects, such as a 19-kilometre-long bridge to the Crimea and constructing monumental stadiums for 2018 World Football Cup, show that its financial flexibility is beyond all doubts. If there were a sudden increase in military spending… in recent years, that was enormous, estimated to be hundreds of billions of dollars… the Russian economy could sustain it in the medium-term.
The second option for Erdoğan is to involve NATO in a conflict with Russia. This is also a very controversial point, as in this case Moscow would have to attack Turkish territory first, which is rather implausible, given the measured reaction to the recent shoot-down by Turkey of a Russian bomber over Syrian airspace, which led to the death of its pilot. In such a case, NATO would have to back up Turkish aggression, and not defend Turkish territory. Given all the above, Erdoğan must follow along with American foreign policy decisions… that is, either the Americans would coöperate with an “unreliable” Putin, which could lead to a prolonged ceasefire and de-escalation of warmongering rhetoric amongst American hawks, or the Americans would besmirch the Kremlin’s “good intentions” and continue to insist that the Syrian ceasefire is a failure (fearing that Moscow would maintain tight control over Syria). In case the latter option prevails, Erdoğan won’t miss the opportunity to catch the wrong train to Damascus.
5 March 2016