Seven Months of tension: Reflections of Turkish Russian tension in the Caucasus and Solution Seeking

On November 24th, 2015, the day when the new government in Turkey was formed, a SU-24 type fighter aircraft belonging to the Russian Federation Air Force was shot by Turkish Armed Forces within the framework of the rules of engagement on the grounds that border violation has occurred. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin said that this claim was untrue and added, “When the aircraft was hit, it was 6 thousand meters in height and flying 1 kilometer away from the Turkish territory” (Sputniknews December 2015). One of the aircraft’s pilots has survived, other one lost his life. One Russian soldier was killed during search and rescue operations.

Turkey did not experience such a deep crisis with either Soviet Union or with Russian Federation after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Turkish-Russian relations have been resilient enough for overcoming all kinds of political crises of various significance. Previously despite being part of the Western world Turkey was able to take a neutral stance on Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2015) crises by adopting a different attitude from the West. Despite being at opposite sides when the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Turkey and Russia have been able to maintain good relations. Although the Turkish-Russian relations have been tested with different crises in different regions, why has the aircraft crisis which began at exactly the time that the 64th Turkish Government was formed (November 24th, 2015) continued to grow? Why have not both Moscow and Ankara tried to bring aircraft crisis under control? Why has not the quarrel war stopped? Assassination of the Soviet dissident Bulgarian journalist Georgi Markov by the KGB in London in 1978 and poisoning of the former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko by the FSB in November 2006 in London led to controlled crisis in the UK-Russia relations. Notably, serious effort was made in order for this crisis not to reflect negatively on the relations between the two countries (political, military, economic, cultural, etc.).

While Russia and the UK were able to manage previous crises between them, Russia and Turkey could not manage the crisis between themselves. There are psychological factors not strategic and economic ones behind the deepening of the Turkish-Russian crisis. Shooting of Russian military aircraft by Turkey has created a national trauma in Russia like the psychological trauma arising from the images US soldiers in Iraq putting sack over Turkish soldiers’ head. Therefore for this crisis, we need to adopt an approach that tries to understand the trauma. Aircraft crisis is a milestone for Turkey-Russia relations and the relations of Turkey and Russia with neighboring countries. Former republics of the Soviet Union in the European continent (except Armenia) have adopted an attitude close to Turkey. Because those republics are integrated with the West, or are trying to integrate to the West. While Kyrgyzstan, one of the former Soviet Union Republics in Central Asia, stands near Russia, Kazakhstan has tried to be a mediator. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have preferred to remain silent.

EU, US and NATO have stood by Turkey. Aircraft crisis has demonstrated that governmental and social structures of Turkey and Russia have Western outlooks but they still carry Eastern mindset. In both countries, a process has been felt in which rational people and institutions kept silent, all sorts of people who will help to deepen the crisis speak and negative steps have been taken. The wars in the 18th and 19th century have been brought to the agenda and an emotional outburst has begun to be experienced. The trauma of the Moscow government and the Russian people headed to hostility towards Turkey and Turkish people. Punishments on political and economic fields to Turkey have not been found sufficient. There is an obsession for an absolute military tit-fortat and recovery of Russia’s honor.

Seven Months of tension: Reflections of Turkish Russian tension in the Caucasus and Solution Seeking