An invisible US hand leading to war?
In considering the terrifying but also sadly predictable news of a Russian fighter jet being downed by two Turkish fighters, let’s start with one almost certain assumption -- an assumption that no doubt is also being made by the Russian government: Turkey’s action, using US-supplied F-16 planes, was taken with the full knowledge and advance support of the US. In fact, given Turkey’s vassal status as a member of US-dominated NATO, it could well be that Ankara was put up to this act of brinksmanship by the US.
Let's be clear, with the US the major supplier of Turkey's military, and also its major guarantor vis-a-vis Russia, there is simply no way Turkey would have taken the huge risk of downing a Russian fighter aircraft without first clearing that action with it's US master.
What makes the downing of the Russian jet, and the incendiary videotaped machine-gunning, by Turkmen or Syrian rebels, of the plane's pilot as he helplessly descended to earth by parachute, so dangerous is that, with Turkey a member of NATO -- supposedly a “mutual assistance” treaty that binds all members to come to the defense of one that is attacked -- it means if Russia were to retaliate by downing a Turkish military plane, NATO countries including the US would be obligated to come to Turkey’s defense. (The Russian plane's navigator was rescued by Russian marines via helicopter.)
Russia knows this, and that is why so far Moscow's response to the downing has been relatively measured. Had it been a Jordanian, Saudi or Kuwaiti jet that downed the Russian SU-24, Russia’s response would have been instantaneous and brutal. The guilty party would have had some of its planes shot down, or perhaps even bombed on the ground. But Russia so far has limited itself to demanding a meeting with Turkey's ambassador, and to warning that Russian-Turkish economic relations would be threatened, etc.
The Russian restraint so far is good, but clearly, President Vladimir Putin will not stop there (already, late in the day of the plane's downing, in a sign of what may be coming, Putin put the Russian cruiser Moskva, stationed off the Syrian coast and equipped with state-of-the art long-range anti-aircraft rockets, on hair-trigger alert, letting Turkey know that any planes headed its way will be presumed hostile and downed immediately, with no warnings give.). Even putting aside domestic considerations (imagine the public clamor for a military response here in the US if some small country shot down a US plane!), he will have to respond resolutely to Turkey's action or his whole project -- so far stunningly successful -- of restoring Russia to its pre-USSR-collapse position as a global power, would be a failure.
Putin’s options are actually quite broad, though some carry considerably more risk for everyone, not just for Russia and Turkey. He could have his own air force in Syria, where Russia is legally acting at the request of the Syrian government to defend it against rebel forces of ISIS and Al Nusra, some of which are backed by both Turkey and the US, calmly wait for a Turkish military jet to cross into Syrian airspace. At that point it could be downed by Russian planes or missiles. No doubt Turkey will be extraordinarily careful going forward to have its pilots keep well away from Syrian air space to avoid that happening, but it could happen nonetheless. My guess is that Russian fighter pilots and anti-aircraft batteries in Syria already have their marching orders and are itching to take that action, which probably would not activate NATO confrontation with Russia and lead to World War III, as long as there was a reasonable case to be made that Turkey’s plane was in Syrian airspace.
A Russian Sukhoi SU-24, like the one shot down yesterday along the Syrian-Turkey border by two Turkish F-16s