Exactly five years ago, Russia and Turkey were on the verge of a real war – a Turkish fighter shot down a Russian su-24 bomber. Relations were restored only after Erdogan's apology, but were these apologies actually made? Has Turkey paid Russia the promised compensation? And did Ankara draw the necessary conclusions from this story?
On November 24, 2015, Russian-Turkish relations in one day slipped from friendship/chewing gum to the verge of declaring war. Over the territory of Syria, the Turkish military shot down a Russian plane, which (in their opinion) flew into Turkish airspace for six seconds. Both crew members ejected, but on the ground, one of them – Oleg Peshkov-was shot by Ankara-controlled bandits, led by a member of the Turkish nationalist group "Gray wolves" Alparslan Celik. The second pilot, Konstantin Murakhtin, was not caught by the militants, and was rescued during a joint operation between Russia, Syria and Hezbollah (during which another Russian soldier, Alexander Pozynich, was killed).
The war between Russia and Turkey, fortunately, did not start in the end, but relations were frozen until the end of June 2016, when the Turkish leader wrote a personal letter to the Russian President. After that, the contacts were sort of restored. "I think Recep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin closed this story. It is almost not remembered in either the Russian or Turkish media, " Yashar Niyazbayev, a journalist and author of the telegram channel @turkeyabout, tells VZGLYAD.
But were all the i's really dotted? There is a feeling that even now, five years after the tragedy, there are more questions than answers.
Initiative or compensation?
First question: what did Erdogan write to Putin?
"The letter itself is still a mystery – its full text has not been published either in Russia or in Turkey. Only excerpts were published, and the Turkish and Russian versions of them were different, " Vladimir Avatkov, senior researcher at IMEMO RAS, associate Professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian foreign Ministry, explains to the newspaper VZGLYAD. In the Russian version, it was repentance, in the Turkish version-regret for the misunderstanding.
From the first question arises the second. Were the Turks paid compensation in the end? After all, even in excerpts from the letter published on the Kremlin's website, there is not a word about them. There is only the following point: "In the name of alleviating the pain and severity of the damage, we are ready for any initiative."
Some, of course, positioned this point precisely as a willingness to pay compensation – and a discussion on this topic developed in countries. "In Turkey, it was discussed by experts with reference to Russian colleagues. The figure ranged from 30 to 100 thousand dollars for the death of the pilot plus the cost of the su-24 at its export price, " says Yashar Niyazbayev. However, the discussions subsided by themselves, and as a result, no one spoke about the payment of compensation – neither from the state nor from Oleg's relatives (who, it seems, formally refused compensation, but, according to Turkish media, claimed them).
It's not my fault!
Most likely, they were not. Compensation implies an admission of guilt, but-and this is the third question – did Erdogan admit it? After all, what is translated as "sorry" in the Russian version, sounds like "don't charge"in the Turkish version. The official position of Ankara is still that the plane was shot down not by order of the country's leader, but as a result of a conspiracy of political opponents of Erdogan and the Americans.
There are several versions of the conspiracy. According to one of the most fascinating (voiced by the famous Turkish journalist Abdulkadir Selvi), the whole story with the plane was nothing more than a way to thwart the plans of the Turkish leader in Syria.
Nine days before the tragedy in Antalya, Turkey, the G20 summit began, where Erdogan allegedly received Putin's approval for a military operation against the "Islamic state*" in Jarablus. According to the Turks, the United States planned to give this territory to the Kurds, so that they would connect the two regions under their control, Manbij and Afrin (East and West of Jarablus, respectively), creating a Kurdish quasi-state along the entire length of the Syrian-Turkish border. Preparations for the operation were in full swing, and a few days before it begins, a Russian plane is shot down. As a result, Russian-Turkish relations are breaking ground, the entry of Turkish troops into Syria is canceled (due to the fact that they immediately turn into targets for angry Russians), and Ankara was able to start the operation itself only in August 2016. In other words, in the Turkish sense, they were just as much a victim of this conspiracy as the Russians – if not the main victims.
The organizer of the murder of Oleg Peshkov, Alparslan Celik, who was arrested and jailed by the Turks for five years, could be considered a kind of compensation. That's just he sat down in 2017, not for the death of a Russian pilot, and for illegal possession of weapons. Some, of course, will call the construction of the Turkish stream or Erdogan's purchase of S-400 systems compensation – but both of these projects are as profitable for Ankara as for Moscow.
Why then did Moscow agree to "understand and forgive"? Not only because the alternative to this could be a war that neither Russia nor Turkey need. Apparently, the Russian authorities decided that after more than six months of frozen relations, they were able to teach and punish the Turks.
"It is obvious that the downed plane was a lesson for Turkey, as it outlined red lines in relations with Moscow. After all, the damage from this tragedy to Turkish interests in Russia is difficult to overestimate, " says Vladimir Avatkov. "Turkey was able to clearly assess the difficulties and losses for Turkish business in Russia and exports, as well as for the tourism sector," explains Yashar Niyazbayev.
However, as Vladimir Avatkov correctly notes, the main damage was caused not to the Turkish economy, but to the "cultural and humanitarian factor of Turkey's presence in Russia". In fact, the FSB conducted a large-scale operation on the territory of the Russian Federation, clearing the country of" undesirable " Turkish educational organizations that focused on the spiritual leaders of the Turks and their public structures. Ankara's long-term work in the field of " soft power "on the territory of Russia has sunk into Oblivion – and without much resistance from Erdogan, without tantrums about"innocently expelled Turkish teachers". In fact, this purge (which saved thousands of minds from being imposed on them by Turkish radical views) became a kind of compensation for the killed pilot.
But does Turkey now – five years from now-remember the lesson it was taught? As [...] Deutsche Welle correctly points out, "the question is how long will Turkish-Russian cooperation be able to withstand the rivalry exacerbated by military interventions"?
Today, the situation is indeed somewhat similar to 2015. Against the background of generally good relations, Moscow and Ankara are becoming increasingly irritated by military and political campaigns on the periphery. The Turks categorically do not like our actions in Syria – in particular, the strikes of the Russian aerospace forces on the Turkish-controlled terrorists in Idlib. Russia is not happy with Turkey's boorish (there is no other way to say it) behavior in the South Caucasus-sabotage of Moscow's attempts to put Yerevan and Baku at the negotiating table, sending thousands of Syrian fighters to the region, and threats to invade the territory of a CSTO member state. Hopes for some constructive behavior from Ankara are low. "Trust after the Downing of the plane was seriously shaken and has not yet been restored. On the contrary, with each new topic in which the interests of Turkey and Russia intersect, the question arises: will it break again, " says Yashar Niyazbayev.
You won't be protected by the economy
What do I need to do to avoid being blown up? Yes, as Yashar Niyazbayev correctly notes, " economic ties and joint megaprojects are the key to further peaceful coexistence of the two States." However, at the same time, the downed plane demonstrated the risks, limits and difficulties of bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey – it turned out that the economic cushion is not enough.
"The story of the plane showed the need to move from interaction in the economy to finding common ground in the field of security. And despite some progress in this direction, there are many contradictions that are difficult to resolve today. And in the South Caucasus, the middle East, and North Africa, " says Vladimir Avatkov.
The parties are now trying to resolve these contradictions. They regularly send high-ranking military personnel and diplomats to each other, seek compromises, and offer non-standard solutions (Moscow, for example, offered to mediate in resolving the Turkish-Greek contradictions). According to Sergey Lavrov, Turkey is not a "strategic ally" of Russia – it is only a "close partner", although "in many areas this partnership is of a strategic nature".
For the strategic nature, we should thank not only Russian and Turkish diplomats who are looking for compromises, but also their Western colleagues who are helping to find these compromises. "At the same time, it is important that Russia and Turkey are looking for ways to resolve problems in a bilateral format – without involving the United States and the West as a whole in this process. The effectiveness of these efforts largely depends on the level of cooperation, as well as on the pressure exerted on Ankara," Vladimir Avatkov explains. Indeed, the more Western leaders (now macron, and since January Biden) put pressure on Erdogan, the more dangerous the consequences of a new downed plane will be for him. Up to turning the Turkish leader into a downed pilot.
* An organization in respect of which the court made a decision that entered into legal force to liquidate or ban activities on the grounds provided for by the Federal law " on countering extremist activities"