Given what’s happened recently I thought I’d try to lighten the mood a bit with a little joke about the Crimea, but then I decided against it because it’s a little too dark.
As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough having Russia’s crown jewel blacked out all because a couple of towers were knocked down, in turn revealing the fact that the peninsula was still dependent on the hated “Ukropy,” Turkey went and pissed all over Putin’s latest attempt to portray Russia as a world military power. And while panic-mongering predictions of WWII were totally unrealistic, believe me, the buttrage is big this time. After all, this is a NATO country shooting down a Russian aircraft with an American-made F16. So while the Russian government, including prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, issued tough statements about consequences for Turkey, the only results we have seen so far are the typical passive-aggressive, more or less impotent economic measures we’ve seen with the EU, Ukraine, and other Russian neighbors who refuse to put up with the Kremlin’s bullshit and treat Russia like some kind of great power.
So Turkish-Russian relations have fallen apart, again. No big deal. They weren’t really that great before. Sure, there’s tourism, but I’ve had Turks tell me about various protectionist measures against their country by the Russian government years ago. When Putin made a big deal about the new “Turkish Stream” pipeline during his state visit to Turkey on 1 December 2014, the Russia press predictably made a big fanfare about it. Putin’s done it again! Another country is turning its back on the West and turning toward Russia! Then, as with their deal with China, the pipeline project immediately ran into serious trouble.
Obviously Turkey and Russia have a great deal of cooperation, and this isn’t limited to the tourism business. Turkish firms are all over Russia, particularly in construction. Cancelling their projects would hurt Russia just as much, if not more so. But as the “counter-sanctions” of 2014 taught us, this is not a government run by rational, well-informed men. The vatniks are furious and will get even angrier if they don’t see blood. While they won’t be satisfied, Putin is more than capable of making more economic blunders that will dick the country up even more.
The funny thing about Russia and Turkey is that for all their inability to get on well with each other, they have so much in common. I became interested in Turkey and Turkic peoples after moving to Russia, and for me one of the most glaring commonalities is that Turkey occupies a similar role in my heart to that of Russia. I love the countries and the people, but I hate their governments. The resemblance goes deeper, however. What we’re looking at here is a conflict which could arguably be called “Clash of the Dickheads.”
Both countries are run by conservative dictators who make up the rules as they go along to remain in power. Both dictators are extremely corrupt and believed to possess large fortunes of ill-gotten wealth. In terms of electoral fraud and corruption, Turkey often gives Russia a run for its money. Turkey is also much harder on journalists and much more quick to resort to censorship. Turkey famously banned Twitter in an attempt to stop the dissemination of information about a corruption scandal between then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Youtube has been banned numerous times in Turkey, the most recent being in April of this year.
Whereas Russia sees itself as a global superpower, it is only able to act in a very limited way within a very limited area that it sees as its natural sphere of influence. Turkey does not have the same pretensions, but it definitely sees itself as a regional power. Russia intervened in Ukraine because doing so was assumed to be their right. Ditto with Turkey in Syria. Both have justified their interventions by claiming a need to protect ethnic brethren on the other side of their borders.
Erdogan and the AK Party have been notorious for deepening the influence of religion in what used to be a highly secular state. Putin has also been breaking down Russia’s secular legacy, in violation of the constitution’s very clear establishment of separation between church and state. The AK Party in Turkey is associated with the glorification and idealization of the Ottoman Empire. While naive or ignorant pundits constantly characterize Putin as trying to rehabilitate and glorify the Soviet Union, there has been a steady undercurrent of rehabilitating and promoting the Russian Empire. Annexing the Crimea, denying the existence of Ukrainians as a nation, and attempting to partition the country are all the actions of a revived Russian Empire and not a Soviet Union.
In this latest scandal, Turkmen rebel forces essentially executed an unarmed Russian pilot who was unable to defend himself. While these particular rebels are not jihadists like the thugs of Al Nusra and certainly not ISIS, what they did to the pilot was a genuine war crime, and Turkey has been backing them. Likewise, in Ukraine Russia armed and supported thugs like Givi and Motorola, the former being caught on camera abusing and torturing prisoners and the latter claiming in an interview that he executed prisoners. And speaking of illegal invasions and annexations, Turkey has been backing a pseudo-state on Cyprus since 1974, but to Turkey’s credit, unlike Russia they’ve managed to keep their colony supplied with both electricity and water.
Both countries got into this mess because of the dishonest way they have elected to wage war beyond their borders. Turkey had warned Russia about violating its airspace before, but the best evidence outside of Russia suggests that if the SU-24 did indeed violate said airspace, they did so only for a matter of seconds. Turkey would not have been in any danger had they taken a more cautious approach. The rapid decision to engage and fire on the Russian plane has been labeled an “overreaction.” Meanwhile, had Russia’s air force actually been engaged in bombing ISIS positions instead of anybody ISIS, that plane shouldn’t have been anywhere near the Turkish border. I shudder to think what those pilots would have encountered had they been shot down over ISIS territory. Ideally, they’d have been shot down over Ukraine and eject there. Then they’d definitely be alive.
When all’s said and done, I have to say I’m a little surprised by all this. First of all I didn’t think Russia was going to get deeply involved in Syria, given the amount of personnel and equipment they put in the country and the fact that Russia’s own goal in Ukraine is already too much of a burden to start a really decisive campaign. As such, I tended to disregard those predictions that Syria would become another Afghanistan. I could see that eventually happening, but I thought that was a long way off. Hell, I expected that any Russian planes falling out of the skies over Syria would be due to more technical failures rather than enemy action. Now it’s happening a bit more quickly. A Russian helicopter sent to rescue the remaining pilot was destroyed, killing a Russian marine. Grisly videos of the rebels shooting at the ejected pilot surfaced, along with video of rebels gloating over his dead body in an image reminiscent of the Chechen Wars or the US debacle in Mogadishu back in 1993. The Syrian campaign might have begun as just another slick reality show for the cameras, but now it’s definitely gone off script.
Once again, you’re not going to see an outpouring of rage directed at the authorities any time soon, at least not while people can still chuck rocks at the Turkish embassy as they did in Moscow today, but trouble is on the horizon. The vatniks want blood that their master Putin cannot deliver to them. What is worse, Russia has no good exit strategy from this new war. Virtually every possible outcome will look like failure, and indeed whatever the details, it will end in failure because there was never any hope for victory. Russia’s not going to get rid of ISIS, and the rest of the anti-ISIS coalition is likely to stamp them out in the near future. As long as they are there, something is wrong. The best they can hope for is some political decision that leaves Assad in charge of some kind of rump state which will keep the Russian bases already there, but that agreement can easily fall apart very quickly.
Russia’s unlikely to lose a lot of men and material in this conflict, but they stand to lose face. Inability to bring victory or significantly change the situation on the ground may look like impotence. And why not? Russia just got slapped in the face by at best, a second-rate NATO member, and there’s really nothing they can do about it but shake their fists and make threats than Turkey need not fear. Cancel the Turkish Stream? Obviously if the Turks valued that project so much they wouldn’t have been throwing up all kinds of obstacles to its construction.
In the end, the lesson is that if you want to act like a superpower, you’d better be able to back it up with action. Far from opposing what they see as American imperialism, the Kremlin and its supporters admire and envy it. What they don’t understand is that imperialism is fundamentally bad, and even if we ignore that, being an empire has certain prerequisites which Russia simply lacks. The blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Putin and his cronies, because however much they value the idea of a Russian superpower making history all over the globe, they valued stealing and material wealth more.
You know when I wrote this, I was being a bit closed minded and remembered that we need to “question more,” as RT says. And that’s when it hit me. I remembered the totally believable evidence Russia put forth in its many investigations of the MH17 disaster, and I realized that there’s good reason to question the “official story” and conclude that the Russian air force shot its own plane down.
What is my basis for this belief? Well as the long time reader is no doubt aware, Russia’s alternative explanation for the downing of MH17 was that a Ukrainian air force Su-25 was responsible for the crime…except when it was a Ukrainian Buk SAM…but then it was a Su-25 again…but then it was a bomb on the plane…then a Su-25…then a Buk. Well you get the idea. The thing is that the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed there was a Su-25 in the sky in the vicinity of MH17. Nobody else can confirm this, but we can trust a government ministry which has been caught in plenty of lies in the past because this is Russia, not the Pentagon.
As it turns out, there are at least 12 Russian Su-25s operating in Syria, some of them no doubt covering the same territory in which the Su-24 was shot down. So can we rule out that the Russians shot down their own plane as a false flag? If not, why not? I’m just asking questions, folks.