The situation on Turkey's Syrian border has only escalated since Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane two days ago. A Russian rescue helicopter was shot down by Syrian rebels while searching for the two pilots of the downed warplane. The helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in a regime-held area of Syria's Latakia governorate. The rebels were using (possibly CIA-supplied) US-made TOW missiles. (The Mirror) One pilot was rescued in the joint Russian-Syrian operation and brought to a base in Latakia, Moscow says. A Russian marine was also reported killed during the rescue mission. The other pilot was shot by rebels as he parachuted from the hit plane, according to Moscow. (AP)
The rebels involved here are Turkmen—members of Syria's Turkic minority. Russia has carried out intense air-strikes on Latakia's Turkmen Mountains since the border incident. Moscow boasted of strikes on 472 "terrorist targets" over the past 48 hours. Samir Hafez, former president of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, told the BBC that 17 villages have been evacuated in the past 48 hours. He denied the presence of any ISIS or other jihadist forces in the area. He admitted that the Turkmen rebels has received aid from Turkey. The rebels have released a video showing them cheering and shouting "Allahu Akbar" as they discovered the body of Lt. Colonel Oleg Peshkov, who will posthumously receive Russia's highest state honors. (BBC World Service, RFE/RL, SMH, Daily Mail, Russia Today)
Another Russian air-strike apparently targeted an aid convoy in Aleppo governorate, killing at least seven. The 20-truck caravan had crossed over from Turkey, bringing relief supplies to rebel-held territory. The convoy was organized Turkey's Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH)—the same that organized the 2010 Gaza Flotilla that was attacked by Israeli commandos. It is said to have close ties to the Turkish state. (Daily Sabah)
Turkey has refrained from invoking NATO's Article 5, which would oblige alliance members to come to its defense. But this could come next. Russia now says it will deploy long-range air-defense missiles to its base in Syria and shoot down any target that threatens its warplanes. Article 4 has already been invoked, mandating NATO consultations on the incident. (AP, Foreign Policy, Forbes)
An obstacle to invoking Article 5 could be tensions within NATO over Turkey's hostility towards the Kurds who are fighting ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq. Growing voices even in the establishment media are calling Turkey out on this. Doug Bandow in Forbes frankly states: "US Should Drop New Ottoman Empire As Ally." (This is a reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Ottoman nostalgia fetish.) Bandow writes that "Turkey is a growing threat to Western interests and values."
Even more certain to cause Erdogan angst is Wes Enzinna's piece in this week's New York Times Magazine, "A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS' Backyard"—a flattering portrait of the Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria that Turkey is seeking to exterminate.
Both Russia and Turkey are pursuing their own imperial interests in Syria—obviously. Both the Kurds and Turkmen were oppressed under Syrian dictator Bashar Assad before he lost control of their northern territories. They are therefore natural allies, and it would be tragic if they were pitted against each other by the Russo-Turkish game.
Meanwhile, some brave souls (including both Russians and Syrian ex-pats) have held anti-war protests in Moscow. Photos on Facebook show them standing near the Kremlin with the Syrian rebel flag and slogan "Long live the free democratic, secular Syria!" The RAWR Report runs their "Statement from the Civil Society of Russia and the Syrian opposition living in Russia." It reads:
We, the citizens of Russia, condemn these terrible crimes against the friendly Syrian people and we demand the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria and an end to the barbaric bombings.
We call on all citizens of Russia, Ukraine and the world to express their outrage of these bloody crimes and to take part in anti-war actions under the slogans:
Putin- get out of Ukraine and Syria!
Enough of the bloodshed of innocent civilians!
We have noted the emergence of an anti-war opposition in Russia before—and that being an anti-war protester in Russia requires far more courage than in the West. We hope the Russian anti-war activists, Turkmen and Kurds can all make common cause against Erdogan and Vladimir Putin alike.