Turkish-Russian Airspace Conflict as Ankara-backed Turkmen flee Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Russia rejected as “propaganda” on Saturday renewed Turkish charges that its fighter jets had crossed Turkish territory. NATO asked Moscow to respect its joint airspace.

A promontory of Turkish territory sticks down into northern Latakia, and it would be very difficult to conduct the sort of bombing raids in which Russia is engaged without occasionally crossing it.

In any case, likely the complaint from Turkey is actually about something else. Ankara must be upset that its proxies in Latakia Province have been destroyed or disrupted.

This week the Syrian Arab Army of the regime, with the help of intensive Russian bombing, took all the Turkmen strongholds in northern Latakia Province, including the holdout city, Rabia.

syria_ethnic copy
Based on a 1935 French map of Syrian Ethnic groups [no longer entirely accurate]

As a result, some 600 Turkmen are said to have crossed the border from Syria into Turkey. Turkmen speak a language similar to that spoken in Turkey itself to the north, and immigrated into Syria from Central Asia in the medieval period. The Turkmen in northern Latakia Province had been evenly divided between those who acquiesced in regime rule and those who had joined the revolution. Some of the latter had been tactically allied with Salafi Jihadi (radical vigilante) groups such as Ahrar al-Sham or Freemen of Syria and the Nusra Front (the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria). The Freemen of Syria is widely thought to receive support from Turkey, as are the Turkmen fighters. These groups have been subjected to intense and indiscriminate Russian bombardment, allowing Syrian troops to regain this territory. Some of those fleeing fear reprisals from the bloodthirsty al-Assad regime.

In essence, Russia had defeated a prime strategy of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, involving the taking of northern Syria by fundamentalist militias and ultimately the fall to them of the key port of Latakia, at which point the regime would have been finished. Ankara is frustrated, and the only purchase it has on Russian intervention is the complaint of airspace violations, given the dicey legal status of Turkish intervention in Syria and the unsavory alliances Turkish-backed groups have sometimes made.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV: “NATO closely monitoring the Turkey-Russia airspace violation tensions”

5 Responses

  1. My *understanding* of what’s going on (here, the true origins of current Turkey-Russia spat) always improves by such leaps and bounds when I read Juan Cole!

  2. Do you think Turkey is now going to escalate by shooting down russian jet again AND/OR invading kurdish areas? What do you think are the chances for that?

    Patrick Cockburn thinks there is good chance of such escalation because of Erdogan…. Erdogan doesn’t seem like a sensible guy. He is eager for a fight.

  3. Russians played well on Erdogan. They entered the turkish airspace knowing the circumstances. By that barbaric act, shooting down the russian plane, Russians simply entered the war by force and halted Erdogan’s dream of taking northern Syria back as it was under Ottomans 100 yrs ago. Erdogan is not that smart in diplomacy. He is rude, brutal and not intellectual that you could be admired of. He is very professional in his hretoric, in convincing his people inside. That one also had an end. The intelligentsia calling him a dictator and asking him to leave. I think after all, the kurds united with leftists will bring him down.

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