If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were hearing about this on a conspiracy theory blog or a parody website. The truth is that this isn’t much of a stretch – Russia will benefit strategically and militarily from the Turkish attack on one of its warplanes that resulted in an international scandal and tensions rising around an already-tense situation.
There’s a reason that Russia’s narrative about their airstrikes and support for Syrians military has been positioned as “attacks on terrorists.” They classify pretty much anyone who is in Syria and not loyal to Bashar al-Assad’s regime as terrorists. That means the Islamic State, of course, but it also means the groups of rebels who have ties in some form or fashion to other terrorist groups. Technically, that means all of them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has one goal: stabilizing Assad’s regime to maintain a Shiite government in Syria. That’s it. Everything else, including the destruction of the Islamic State, is secondary.
His problem is that the west and, you guessed it, Turkey are supplying the rebels and giving them the ability to ward off Syrian advances. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with European, North American, and most Middle Eastern countries other than Iran, seek to remove Assad from power and replace him with secular Sunni leadership. This means that supplies are being shipped across the Turkish-Syrian border to assist the rebels. Those supplies are making it difficult for Russia and Syria to advance.
By downing the Russian jet, Turkey has given Russia enough provocation to seal the border with airstrikes on trucks loaded with supplies and arms. It’s given Putin a license to “go rogue” and to not need to justify his actions to the international community.
According to the Washington Post:
Russian airstrikes targeted Turkish aid vehicles in the Syrian border town of Azzaz, killing at least seven drivers. The town is a hub for supplies being delivered from Turkey to Syrian rebels fighting government forces in the nearby city of Aleppo.
There’s a reason that Russia has been crossing into Turkish airspace since the beginning of their military operations in Syria. They wanted an incident. Bold accusations, yes, but if you trace back the reports from Turkey of Russian aircraft crossing into their airspace, it makes it difficult to explain away as minor mistakes. Russian Sukhoi Su-24 aircraft are precision vehicles. They know exactly where they are and they know exactly where the border is at all times. Repeated incursions can only be seen as intentional provocation if Turkey is to be believed.
In case you’re considering the possibility that Turkey has been lying about the incursions, don’t. They are the ones with the most to lose by shooting down a Russian jet and the heat is now on. Russia predictably responded by halting trade, cutting off tourism, and expelling Turkish business executives. They’re also halting the installation of Turkey’s first nuclear reactor. The economic toil is high for Turkey and it would appear that their story of finally relenting to continuous incursions by shooting down the jet is most likely accurate. Add in US satellite heat signatures that confirmed incursion for several seconds and the case against Turkey starting this incident becomes easy to dismiss.
Why would Putin want to provoke Turkey. He certainly doesn’t want the west to get involved and actions against Turkey, a NATO member, could lead to a war that Russia can’t afford.
The answer lies in the calculated risks that have been ordered by Putin for years. He knows that the Russian people will not stand for a prolonged war nor would they see ground casualties as a positive. The war is somewhat acceptable now, particularly after a Russian passenger jet was brought down by the Islamic State, but eventually support would fade. Their mission in Syria is not short term. They knew that going in. These new circumstances allow Russia to escalate their efforts against the rebels to expedite the realization of the next leg of their plan: security occupation.
Syria is not in control of the situation and technically speaking neither is Russia. Iran is partially calling the shots. They have worked out some sort of deal to give Russia access to the Middle East without having to allow Russia to work directly through Iran. The Ayatollah Khamenei and Putin are working together to stabilize Syria and maintain Shiite control in order to be able to pressure other Middle East countries and therefore the west to work in the region with Russia’s consent. In essence, they are trying to be the primary player in Middle East politics.
There are many reasons that point to this being the case, but the economic reasons seem to be the most likely driven force. Russia’s economy is quietly collapsing. They’re powerful enough to remain stable but sustained lower oil prices are taking their toll. This means pushing their financial agenda forward. This means increasing the power of BRICS. This means inclusion of Iran and Syria. It means forming a competitor to OPEC with freedom from the petrodollar and a new reserve currency. Eventually, it means the forced inclusion of Turkey and Venezuela.
Sound crazy? Play out the possibilities. Consider the circumstances. Look beyond the immediate actions of Russia and consider China, India, Brazil, and South Africa in the equation.
Most conspiracy theories are easy to debunk. Some of them end up making too much sense and that’s where it gets scary.