Russian President Vladimir Putin has been provoking a military response from NATO since the beginning of the Ukraine Crisis. He finally got it at the expense of a Sukhoi Su-24, two Russian pilots, and the casualties of a rescue mission when Turkey shot down the Russian fighter jet after it allegedly flew into Turkish airspace.
In defending its sovereignty after repeated warnings and similar incidences over the past two months, Turkey has solidified the Syrian Civil War as a proxy war between NATO and Russia.
The Putin government has knowingly provoked this type of response by flying close to the airspace and waterways of NATO countries. The most likely to react to any sort of provocation, threatened NATO member Turkey, which borders the war torn Syria, will be defended by fellow NATO members despite growing problems with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Despite the lack of panic over this development, the world faces a very serious situation. This latest development in the clash between the West and Russia could have easily be the “shot heard round the world” for World War III.
With the decision to escalate in the hands of the Russian government, Vladimir Putin appears to be taking a controlled response than expected by calling the incident a “stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorism.” In doing so, Putin is clearly trying to avoid make the incident a NATO issue and enlist Western governments in its condemnation of Turkey by rekindling concerns that Erdoğan is supporting the Islamic State to undermine Kurdish forces.
Caught between starting World War III and looking like a Paper Bear at home, Putin is trying to paint Turkey as a rogue state hiding behind NATO. This allows him to be the responsible party by pursuing other means of punishing Turkey, such as severing military ties and turning away from plans to build the Turkish Stream pipeline through Turkey, which is a plan already doomed to failure for economic reasons. While this means continued reliance on Ukraine to transport Russian gas to Europe, it does give Putin the political cover needed to back away from erroneous policies his made without losing credibility.
That said, this incident also creates a risk of escalation between the United States and China over the South China Sea Crisis. Testing the boundaries of China’s aggressive behavior in South China Sea, the Chinese may take advantage of this situation to justify engagement against US forces. Attacking a US vessel, however, would be a terrible miscalculation on behalf of the Chinese military, as it would force the US to act militarily with the aid of its Asian allies.
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