Mano a Mano: Putin and Erdogan spar

Mano a Mano: Putin and Erdogan spar

Tensions between Russia and Turkey are escalating, but must not overshadow the bigger picture.

High tensions and hot rhetoric between Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have now been backed up with legitimate action in the form of economic warfare. This following an incident last week which saw Turkey shoot down a Russian fighter jet, which eventually crashed in Syria within close proximity to its border. According to Turkey, the Russian warplane had entered its airspace and ignored several warnings to exit immediately. Of course Russia categorically denies this, claiming that it received no such warning, as the jet never exited Syrian airspace in the first place. There are even reports by neutral parties that say neither side is telling the truth.

Whomever is lying — and both countries could have reason to given shady operations in Syria — the outcome has been Russia’s recently announced package of sanctions placed upon the Turkish economy. They are quite extensive, and include “imports from Turkey, the work of Turkish companies in Russia and any Turkish nationals working for Russian companies”, as well as suspension of the “visa-free arrangement” held between the two countries. This is much more than a light slap on the wrist from Russia, and will undoubtedly deal a powerful economic blow toward on Turkey — especially considering their typically strong trade ties. For instance, Russia “imports 20% of it’s produce” from Turkey. The sanctions will therefore hurt both Turkish producers and workers, both at home in Turkey and abroad in Russia.

To try and quell growing concerns that this might get out of hand, President Erdogan of Turkey has “asked for a meeting” with President Putin. However the Russian leader has declined to meet until he receives a formal apology — something that he is unlikely to get from the Turkish President who is too much like himself to concede fault so easily.

The geopolitical relations of Russia and Turkey are always an interesting barometer regarding the state of both regional and international diplomatic relations. With the chaos that is the Syrian crisis and ISIL — and quite obvious disagreements and incongruences between Western allies (including Turkey) and Russia on how to manage it — the progression of this particular situation must be closely monitored.

Ultimately, this conflict is but one of the many battles that rage on in the grander war of international geopolitics. What is most important is to keep this particular episode within the perspective of the broader East-West struggle for international geopolitical supremacy. The Middle-East is the major battleground in this struggle, and this incident is but one small skirmish. It will not lead to all-out war between Russia and Turkey — such an idea is fantastical. However because it involves two major players, the alignment of alliances dictating diplomatic and military power in the region are in jeopardy of shifting. It is such an impact that will most certainly influence real decisions made moving forward regarding international efforts towards addressing the question of Syria in particular. Hence it is within this framework that we must understand its significance.

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