Tensions between Turkey and Russia are simmering in the wake of Tuesday’s shoot-down of a Russian Su-24 Fencer fighter bomber by a Turk F-16 after it strayed into Turkish airspace. Russia has claimed that its aircraft never crossed the border and was not issued radio warnings, as claimed by the Turks. Turkey, in response, released audio recordings that indicate the Su-24 was warned several times and did not respond to requests that it alter course.
Now, following the incident, Russia is moving forward with the deployment of a battery of long range SAMs to Syria. The SA-21 Growler (S-400) is an effective air defense system with a range of 250 miles. From where the battery is being placed outside of Latakia, its range enables it to cover a large swath of airspace over the Eastern Mediterranean, including portions of southern Turkey. Along with the SAM deployment, Russian attack jets will now be provided with fighter escorts for their missions against Syrian rebel positions. These moves, it is hoped by Moscow, will deter any future Turkish actions against Russian aircraft.
Turkey has rejected Russian demands for an apology, emphatically sticking to its position that the Russian aircraft violated Turkish airspace. Meanwhile, Russia is apparently preparing to slap Turkey with economic sanctions. This is a significant step considering that the two nations have important economic connections. Russia is Turkey’s second largest trading partner and will, predictably, feel the pinch quite soon if sanctions are placed in effect.
On the bright side, it is a a relief to see that Russia is seeking to even the score with economic measures instead of military action. But the movement of SA-21 missiles into Syria is a sign that any future clash between Turkish and Russian aircraft will run the risk of cascading into a much larger confrontation.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!