Preventing World War Three in Syria between Turkey and Russia

November 25, 2015
A radar picture shows activities of the downed Russian warplane on the Turkish-Syrian border, November 24, 2015 in this handout photo provided by Turkish Interior Ministry Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security. Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday after repeated warnings over air space violations, but Moscow said it could prove the jet had not left Syrian air space.   REUTERS/Turkish Interior Ministry/Handout via Reuters      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1VLD2

A radar picture shows activities of the downed Russian warplane on the Turkish-Syrian border, November 24, 2015, in this handout photo provided by Turkish Interior Ministry Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security. REUTERS/Turkish Interior Ministry/Handout via Reuters

NATO entered uncharted territory on Tuesday when one of its members, Turkey, shot down a Russian warplane. There is an urgent need for Washington to bring both sides together to avoid World War Three.

Details are still emerging to corroborate Ankara’s insistence that the jet had been repeatedly warned and violated Turkish airspace near its border with Syria. What is clear is that this incident has been a long-time in the making given the precipitous build-up between Ankara and Moscow over conflicting Syria policies. Since Russia started flying its warplanes over Syria in support of Assad, it has repeatedly violated Turkish airspace.

Despite hopes of a “grand coalition” forming in the wake of the Ankara, Sinai, and Paris bombings claimed by the so-called Islamic State, now there is an urgent need for de-escalation to salvage what little is left of peace and stability in the Middle East.

Moscow’s immediate accusations of Ankara’s “back-stabbing” and support for Islamic State followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warnings of “serious consequences,” highlight just how high the stakes in Syria are for all parties involved. Hopes that the spillover effects from Syria could be contained are now dashed.

Turkey’s support of their ethnic brethren, the Turkmen of the northern Syrian region where the Russian pilots likely ejected, will only further complicate the situation on the ground. Given the fissures among the Kurds, Islamists, and rebel groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian supported forces, there is no hope of victory on the ground. To avoid further confrontation in the air and to prevent Russia from any retaliatory action, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization must re-affirm its support of Turkey and call for an immediate no-fly moratorium over Syria.

America’s unique role as mediator between its transatlantic allies in Ankara and rivals in Moscow has never been timelier. Many in Washington had hoped that in the wake of the recent attacks on Paris and progress at last week’s G-20 summit in Turkey, a common approach to defeating Islamic State would develop. Even after their own bombings in their capital, Ankara, Turks are wary of outside intervention in the region that doesn’t remove Assad as they fear they might be left to pick up the regional pieces.

Turkey already hosts the world’s largest number of refugees and the Syrian civil war has become entangled in Ankara’s decades-long struggle against Kurdish militants, some of whom are now supported by the United States. Now, the best that can be hoped for is that Ankara and Moscow will pragmatically focus on their interdependence and the costliness of further escalation to avoid letting Syria drag them into open warfare.

Bringing Russia and Turkey to the same table must now be part of a broader regional political compromise that centers on Assad’s future. It will be difficult, but not impossible, to devise an exit strategy that contains Assad in the short-term, while allowing for the long-term transition of his regime. Any such solution must permit Moscow and Tehran to save face and the various coalitions to come back together. Given Turkey’s calls for “regional solutions to regional problems,” Ankara should be supported by its transatlantic allies in becoming a non-sectarian regional leader. That must include applying pressure on Arab and Sunni powers to provide critical development assistance to counteract Iranian and Russian influence in Damascus. Concurrently, Moscow must be assured that its Mediterranean foothold in Latakia will be maintained in any post-Assad Syrian outcome.

Due to contentious electoral politics earlier this year, Ankara had been paralyzed. But Putin may have misjudged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose ruling AK Party’s mandate is now clear: stability through strength.

Saving face for both leaders, who once considered each other friends, will be critical and best facilitated by calls of restraint from President Barack Obama and France’s leader, Francois Hollande. Any shuttling between Washington and Moscow to discuss a grand coalition against Islamic State now must include Turkey to have any hope of success.

Pitting the region’s largest economy, military/intelligence power, and only NATO ally, against Russia is a recipe for further Middle Eastern disintegration. To avoid further war, all sides must focus on the common interest in de-escalating the situation. They must focus on their common enemy — Islamic State — which must be military defeated to facilitate a strategy for politically reconstituting Syria and Iraq as sovereign states. Obama has studiously avoided repeating President George W. Bush’s actions in Iraq, but now America exert itself to prevent further war.

Power vacuums in the heart of the Middle East have almost always led to worse outcomes. Preparing now for a peace that the region will own is critical to all parties and should be an area of mutual agreement. A regional summit called by NATO to include Ankara and Moscow will allow both sides to put this week’s incident behind them, and help all involved focus on the common enemy.

28 comments

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This writer seems writing for NATO. What about Syria shooting down Turky’s plane over her sovereign territory that is evaded by Turkish forces? So small countries don’t have rights?
Every other forces on Syrian soil that has not been invited is there illegal, and had Syria got a competent airforce, none would have illegally enter. What a cruel and unjust world. What if while Russia is supporting Syria, decides to help Syria shoot down all planes violating her territory? NATO is just a bunch of aggressors: See what they did to Gadaffi and his country, and they want to do the same in Syria? Shame!!!!!

Posted by Njegani | Report as abusive

The No Flight Zone over Syria is already there and enforced by Russia.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

The No flight Zone over Syria will be imposed By Russia once the S-400 is in place and fully operational Time remaining: 1 day 2 hour and 59 seconds.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Most of Russia’s targets in Syria have been against anti-Assad rebel groups and not ISIS. Russia is propping up a government that only Iran and themselves want to see stay in place. As long as Russia fails to recognize the sovereignty of other countries, they can expect more issues with their planes.

Posted by MEOilMan | Report as abusive

“There is an urgent need for Washington to bring both sides together to avoid World War Three.”

Putin is well versed in international diplomacy and is not going to allow the West to provoke him into an ‘irrational’ act that could trigger war. Putin knows that most average Westerners will accept Turkey’s version over Russia’s regardless of who was at fault. What is indisputable, however, is that elements of the ‘Free’ Syrian Army shot at parachuting pilots and at a rescue helicopter. This act of barbarity gives Russia the moral right to undertake strikes at the FSA as well as ISIS, whether or not they have already been doing so. The new action against the FSA has already commenced.

Posted by wootendw | Report as abusive

According to russians, the anti-assad rebels they bomb there are mainly foreigners, and in particular, those from Russia and other ex-URSS states.What sort of “moderate opposition” is that?
Moreover, according to some accounts on social media, the “rebel” group that got photo-prominence by killing the russian pilot when parachuting are actually turks. Their leader, holding the remains of the chute at the center of the photo appears to be a turkish ultra-right, and claims are that he is a son of a turkish official from a nearby region in Turkey. What kind of “syrian” opposition is that?

Posted by BraveNewWrld | Report as abusive

Erdogan non-sectarian? Are you serious? The man is a Sunni extremist who for sectarian reasons wants to overthrow the government of a neighboring country.

Given the demand for a no-fly zone over the whole of Syria the title of the article should be rephrased to “Let’s start World War III”.

Posted by musicmouse | Report as abusive

Assad is the recognize government of Syria in the UN, America is trying to change that…the sovereignty argument is in favor of Assad..the war has caused residents to flee from rebel held territory while the west for 4 years trained and armed rebel fighters to topple the regime…wake up and smell what thy are shoveling

This is a war in which Assad is the only Syrian speaking up and defending his country, The western leaders are acting as if they are the elected leaders of the Syrian rebels..

Not a single rebel commander has come forward while many have quit and their former chief totally resigned from any duty with opposition whatsoever http://en.alalam.ir/news/1567827

The Syrian western back coalition is based in İstanbul, Turkey Syrian National Council (SNC)

They are trying to initiate regime change and are feeding the public pure bull**** with the press happy to carry the message as they did in Iraq and Libya

Posted by Dracaveli | Report as abusive

perhaps those revolutionary muslims should never have tried to topple so many governments, especially syria. i live amongst such people expecting the world handed to them on a silver platter. the war in afghanistan was also a mistake, not just iraq. you don’t flood the country with thousands upon thousands of soldiers to find one man.

Posted by EvanDow | Report as abusive

Josh, I agree with BraveNewWrld, Macedonian, wootendw and musicmouse and strongly disagree with MEOilMan. The US is running the risk that no one will ever credit its foreign policy again, and I say this as someone who has been close to the US. Their reputation is completely in tatters, and every step they take seems to only make things worse. MEOilMan can’t be serious when he says Russia isn’t respecting others’ sovereignty when the US has created this entire mess by arming rebels. By Washington’s own reasoning, Russia would be within its rights to assist the Chicago protesters with anti-tank weapons.

Posted by adboughton | Report as abusive

The piece by Josh Cohen is insightful. He accurately describes the fatal damage to US policy in the ME, a catastrophic failure since 1948 when most competent people in ME Section of the State Department resigned, while Russia has meantime offered some hope to the regular people of the ME, to the detriment the Islamist zombies murdering them.

Interesting that now the Saudis are paying for US made launchers to arm “our” Islamists via Turkey – a policy that bore such dark fruit in Afghanistan – while back in the 1970s they funded African American Nation of Islam separatists to study ‘true Islam’ in Riyadh. Just what kind of game is the US playing? Is there any cohesive strategy, or just these reactionary, self-defeating counter-currents?

Posted by adboughton | Report as abusive

Keenly waiting Russia’s response to Sultan Erdogan. Both, military and non-military. Fully expect, Erdogan to pay a heavy price.

Posted by roughlyright | Report as abusive

For Turkey, Syria is home turf; Russia is on thin ice there. Push comes to shove, Putin’s hyped up SAM sites and cruiser ships can be taken out by at most a few cruise missiles per target. Furthermore, Russian military there can be choked off easily if Turkey closes the Bosphorus and Dardanelles.

Furthermore, Turkey and/or Saudis can easily retaliate against increased Russian pressure by slipping anti air capabilities to the rebels.

Also, Putin doesn’t have the stomach for world war 3. He is a coward at heart and has always been.

My point is, there is nothing for Russia to win there, and that realization will come very quickly should things escalate.

Posted by amd65 | Report as abusive

“Putin’s hyped up SAM sites and cruiser ships can be taken out by at most a few cruise missiles per target.”
Most of Turkey military capabilities can be taken by cruise missiles.

Posted by LongKnife | Report as abusive

all the events are unfolding in slow motion towards a total war with Russia by the Spring.

A war that will reach into the heartlands of America for the first time since the abolition of Slavery.

The Russians are standing their ground and slowly drawing Nato into making a strategic blunder of catastrophic proportions.

Its worth remembering there is no historical precedence of Russian appeasement to outside military pressure in their two thousand year old culture….they dont back down, regardless of the cost.

The russians know our system is surviving entirely on money printing and that our elites our enriching themselves utterly at our expense.

It can only end one way.

Posted by EmidioBorg | Report as abusive

all the events are unfolding in slow motion towards a total war with Russia by the Spring.

A war that will reach into the heartlands of America for the first time since the abolition of Slavery.

The Russians are standing their ground and slowly drawing Nato into making a strategic blunder of catastrophic proportions.

Its worth remembering there is no historical precedence of Russian appeasement to outside military pressure in their two thousand year old culture….they dont back down, regardless of the cost.

The russians know our system is surviving entirely on money printing and that our elites our enriching themselves utterly at our expense.

It can only end one way.

Posted by EmidioBorg | Report as abusive

What I do not understand is the logic of leaving yet another political void if Syria’s Assad is eliminated by force and most importantly by outside forces? ( i.e., Iraq)

Posted by SkepticMatilda | Report as abusive

I do not know what they say Western media, the reaction of the Russian Federation. We do not care, the reaction of NATO and the EC. Turkey will pay for kovarstvo.Esli USA and NATO will try to stop – there will be war – planet unichtozhim.No we die with honor, and Western countries as the shlyuhi.Eto not bravado, and the realities of today.

Posted by Alex121 | Report as abusive

Turkey will be punished. If NATO is make war-welcome. Destroy the entire planet, to x .. dog.

Posted by Alex121 | Report as abusive

lol @ putler, what a suck hole he is making all russians into.

Posted by PowrrrPlay | Report as abusive

I agree with the conclusion that Turkey and Russia must agree to focus their attacks on ISIS, which is their and their allies’ common enemy. But calling for a no-fly moratorium over Syria is a good way to start WWIII.

Posted by giantslor | Report as abusive

The writer describes America as a “mediator” when in reality America is a perpetrator. Every nation involved has an opinion on what to do about Syria, the only nation not allowed a say seems to be Syria

Posted by Bazrama | Report as abusive

[Power vacuums in the heart of the Middle East have almost always led to worse outcomes. Preparing now for a peace that the region will own is critical to all parties and should be an area of mutual agreement.]

The author is naive. CIA meddling has no goal of Peace. It has very clearly unleashed Hell on Earth for tens of millions.

Divide and Conquer: The policy of maintaining control over one’s subordinates or subjects by encouraging dissent between them.

Posted by SaveRMiddle | Report as abusive

I wonder how Vlad would react if Turkey started bombing ethnic Russians in Donetsk…

Posted by JamesWMoore | Report as abusive

Any agreement which allow Putin and Iran to “save face” will embolden their continuing actions to undermine Western democracies.

Posted by BKfia | Report as abusive

The Assad regime no longer holds legitimacy over Syria. Over 50% of the population has left. Now, the interests of Russia (i.e their military base); Turkey (i.e. the Kurds, and, the Syria refuges); and the World (i.e. the ISIS strongholds) are the only points for discussion. Focus.

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

Turkey has no business in NATO. They have always been, and always will be, just another backward middle eastern country. It is a very gullible and lazy population.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

One hopes that Russian-speaking Americans flood Russian media comment sections with better informed statements than the utterly biased misinformation presented here by pro-Russian commentators.

Posted by distancematters | Report as abusive