By Owei Lakemfa
Turkey is playing dangerous games and endangering world peace. On Tuesday, it plucked off the sky, a Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft which it claimed strayed into its territory. As is generally known, the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan administration in Turkey tilts towards the same Islamic fundamentalism exhibited by the Islamic State, ISIS.
The manner the government crushed the protest last year against the demolition of a green park in the Taksim Square, Istanbul, showed it is also, highly intolerant, even of its own people. Interestingly, Erdogan chided the police for not being brutal enough.
Turkey assisted in building ISIS and was, and perhaps, remains the main route for fundamentalists across the world recruited to join ISIS. When its NATO allies finally decided to take on ISIS, Turkey showed a marked reluctance. It did not want the ISIS terrorists eliminated. With the ISIS seizure and incorporation of large parts of Iraq into its Caliphate, the Iraqi forces were in full retreat, the only force on ground willing to fight the terrorists was the Kurdish. In the process of the fight, Turkey, claiming that the Kurds are terrorists, attacked them in and outside Turkey. The message was simple: Turkey does not want ISIS over powered. So in the war against ISIS, it is clear on whose side the Turkish government is.
This in the main, explains the shooting down of the Russian jet. Turkey said it brought down the aircraft because it strayed into its territory. It claimed that it issued warnings to the jet ten times within five minutes before deciding to bring it down.
Turkey’s main supporter, the United States, US, backs its claim that the aircraft strayed into Turkish territory, but said it was just for 17 seconds. If this were true, then Turkey lied that it warned the pilots over five minutes. If we are to believe the US, was straying for 17 seconds enough reason to bring down the jet? Would the Turks have brought down a US or French aircraft if it strayed?
Turkey has had a territorial dispute with Greece since the latter was handed over virtually the whole Aegean Sea in 1913. Greece not only patrols skies claimed by Turkey, but also demands Turkish military aircraft obtains permission or is authorised before it can fly in the area. Why is Turkey not at war over this, or gone around shooting down Greek aircraft?
In any case, Russia denies its aircraft strayed. Its President, Vladimir Putin further argued: “Our pilots and our plane did not in any way threaten Turkey. Our military is doing heroic work against terrorism. But the loss today is a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists”. The implication is that Russia assumes the attack was premeditated and now sees Turkey as a terrorist nation.
After months of NATO bombing ISIS targets, Russia’s entry was a game changer. For being so decisive, ISIS on October 31, planted a bomb on a Russian civilian airliner flying out of Egypt, killing all 224 persons on board. Now, it has lost a jet in Syria, and a rescue helicopter. To worsen matters, pro-Turkish fighters accepted they shot at the two pilots who had ejected from their burning aircraft. Shooting unarmed men who are in no position to defend themselves is a war crime.
After bringing down the jet, Turkey ought to have been more reconciliatory, acted diplomatically and condemned its supporters who shot at the parachuting Russian pilots. Rather, it bragged about defending its territorial integrity, made complaint against Russia to the United Nations and asked for an emergency NATO meeting. NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg weighed in: “As we have repeatedly made clear we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally, Turkey”.
Turkey was reckless, and its follow- up reaction can only aggravate the situation. Just in case it is under the illusion that NATO will send troops to defend it in case Russia counter attacks, it needs to examine the events in Ukraine. Or better still, the five-day Russo-Georgia war in November 2008. There had been conflicts in South Ossetia involving Georgia, and Russia had sent peacekeepers. Later Georgia accused the Russians of being partisan, and with the backing of NATO, started arresting the peacekeepers. But when Russia reacted, capturing Georgian territory up to its capital, Tibilisi, NATO did not send troops.
The rise of ISIS, its attacks in Paris, and the downing of the Russian aircraft, have again given rise to talks about a possible Third World War. The fundamentalist Turkish government of Erdogan is a threat to world peace, and NATO has a duty to call its member to order. On the other hand, if Turkey is a mere pun, like Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine, it should be concerned that its territory will be the theatre of war. As we say in Nigeria, a person whose head is used to break the coconut will not partake eating it.
United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon “urged all parties to take urgent measures to de-escalate tension.” This is good, but the best way to de-escalation is for Turkey to render an apology and help return the corpse of the pilot. Russian special forces had succeeded in rescuing the co-pilot. Meanwhile, with Russia deploying a surface-to-air missile system in Syria and ordering fighters to escort jets on bombing missions, the situation is escalating.
The Russian tiger might have momentarily withdrawn; but Turkey will be shocked if it mistakes the lurking of the tiger for cowardice. Unfortunately, were Russia to react, apart for the needless loss of lives and property, the world be less secure, and groups like ISIS will get the breather they need to survive and consolidate.