Just over 24 hours after the downing of a Russian Su-24 Fencer near the Syrian border with Turkey, tensions in the increasingly crowded operating theater that is the western Middle East have reached a critical level. In what some are likening as reminiscent of the Cold War, the West, including the European Union, NATO, and the United States, are on one side, and Russia is on the other.
Russia is, somewhat understandably, cross that Turkey shot down one of its jets. While both pilots ejected, one is dead. USA Today cites Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in claiming the other pilot is "safe and sound." Meanwhile, the search-and-rescue mission came under small-arms fire allegedly by ethnic Turkish rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, damaging one Russian Mi-8 Hip and killing one of the country's marines.
Yesterday, President Vladimir Putin angrily called the incident a "stab in the back," and asked if Turkey wanted "to put NATO at the service of the Islamic State," CNN reported. And today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the incident a "planned provocation," and said he had "serious doubts that it was unintentional." Lavrov was quick to add, though, that this didn't mean war between Russia and Turkey.
"We are not planning to wage a war against Turkey, our attitude towards Turkish people has not changed," Lavrov said, according to USA Today. "We have questions only to the Turkish leadership."
In the West, though, calls for restraint and increased cooperation are coming from multiple arenas, along with a few jabs about Russia's choice of targets in Syria.
"At this dangerous moment after downing of Russian jet, all should remain cool-headed and calm," European Council President and former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said. Defense News reports that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg backed up those comments.
"This highlights the importance of having and respecting arrangements to avoid such incidents in the future. As we have repeatedly made clear, we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO Ally, Turkey," Stolenberg said. "We will continue to follow the developments on the southeastern borders of NATO very closely. I look forward to further contacts between Ankara and Moscow and call for calm and de-escalation. Diplomacy and de-escalation are important to resolve this situation."
"I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are operating very close to the Turkish border and they are going after moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries," US President Barack Obama said during a news conference with French President François Hollande, The New York Times reports.
With Russian and western forces operating in such close proximity over Syria, not to mention the uptick in anti-ISIS attacks from both sides, these kind of conflicts could become worryingly common. Let's just hope cooler heads prevail next time.