Monday, December 14, 2015

The Zero Sum Game in Syria: Turkey Hunting

With the recent shoot down of a Russian SU-24 by a Turkish F-16, the differences between the two countries interests in the outcome of the Syrian conflict has once again made the front pages. Much has been said about Putin’s planned retribution against Ankara and the fact that said plans will not stop at economic sanctionsbut go much further. Given Russia’s historical influence, place of power within the United Nations Security Council and capable military assets, such threats do need to be taken seriously. However, what options exists for Turkey if Vladimir Putin does in fact decide to escalate?

One of the quickest ways to respond to escalation by Moscow would be to limit Russia’saccess to the Bosporus Straits. The waterway connects the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed. Under current international treaty, Ankara is obligated to allow free transit through the waterway to all nations, however the country is reserved the right to close the passage during time of war. However if Turkey decided to, they could effectively stop Russian resupply convoys to the Port of Tartus in Syria, crippling the Russian involvement in that theatre, and limiting the black fleet to the Black Sea. Due to Turkeys geographic position, maintaining air superiority of the area against any Russian response would be easy, and Moscow would be hesitant at this point to avoid further escalation as to limit NATOs support of Turkey.

Russia hasalso recently deployed more assets to its long term in Armenia, which Turkey sees as a direct threat to its interests and has had an extremely tepid relationship with. In order to address this, Turkey might want to increase its cooperation with the country of Azerbaijan, an enemy of Armenia. Ankara and Baku already share warm ties due to a common cultural background and Baku stands to become a major alternative to the current Russian monopoly of energy resources to Turkey and Europe. Alone the threat of further energy cooperation has made Moscow nervous, as proven by the fact that the government has tried everything possible to scuttle a possible pipeline from Azerbaijan that would bypass Russian territory.

If Turkey is required to defend itself, it must not worry about finding allies to support it. As a member of NATO, the possibility of declaring article 5 of the treaty always exists, however the chance that other nations will not want to directly confront Moscow by responding does exists. In terms of military strength, Turkey has highly modern capabilities, and is ranked as the 10thmost powerful military in the world, while Russia is ranked as the 2nd. Russia is also currently overstretched due to its engagements in Eastern Ukraine and Syria and the extremely low price of oil. With Moscow quickly burning through its reserves of international currencies, few believe that it has the economic strength for yet more adventurism.

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