President Vladimir Putin has found himself in a bind after the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey, which highlights the risks of his gung-ho Syria campaign.
The dramatic escalation in tensions between Russia and Nato member Turkey comes as Putin prepares for talks today in Moscow with France’s Francois Hollande on building a broad coalition to fight Islamic State (IS) militants.
Putin, who supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has sought to capitalise on shifting dynamics in the West in the wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris that were claimed by IS.
Welcoming Hollande’s call for greater co-operation on combating the extremists in Syria, he ordered his military to work with Nato member France “as allies” - a first since World War II.
But analysts say that the downing of the Russian plane on Turkey’s border serves as a reminder that global and regional powers are unlikely to band together in a broad coalition given their stark differences on the Syrian conflict, not least on the fate of Assad, a friend of Moscow.
“It is impossible to imagine Russia and Turkey in the same coalition,” according to Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Russian government-linked Council on Foreign and Defence Policy.
Turkey’s Nato allies have called for a rapid de-escalation of tensions, stressing the need to prevent such incidents in the future.
Russia, for its part, has said it will not retaliate militarily with Moscow’s ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, even saying that Moscow is ready to establish a “joint staff” to fight the Islamic State together with Paris, Washington and Ankara.
But Putin’s fury was on full display on Tuesday when he accused Turkey of betraying Russia and backing Islamic State and suggested Russia could retaliate with economic and political measures.
Political observer and satirist Viktor Shenderovich has accused Putin of taking the country to the brink of war with a Nato member.
“The international humiliation of the military adventurer had to take place one way or another,” Shenderovich wrote in a blog, predicting the Kremlin would try to harness the incident for political gain. “There is no doubt they will manage to use the nation’s shock for their own political purposes; not for the first time,” he said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey does not want any escalation, saying it had acted simply to defend its own security and the “rights of our brothers” in Syria.
“We have no intention of escalating this incident. We are only defending our own security and the rights of our brothers,” Erdogan said, adding Turkey’s policy in Syria would not change.
“We will continue our humanitarian efforts on both sides of the (Syrian) border. We are determined to take all necessary measures to prevent a new wave of immigration.”
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