Applied psychology has a term “permanent panic.” The symptoms are panic mood shifts, fatalism, self-deception, mental illness, and at the same time, behavior posing danger for the wider public, anti-social behavior, aggressiveness, illogical actions and speech. This is exactly how one can describe Turkey’s policy to Russia after it “quite unexpectedly” (in fact, deliberately as the following developments showed) provoked Russia by attacking its Su-24 warplane over Syria.
Analyzing the logic (more precisely, the seeming logic) of the Turkish leadership’s actions, one can draw preliminary conclusions on the reasons of the attack against the Russian plane. Under no circumstance should we hope that Turkey’s actions were momentary and directed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s personal ambitions. Trigger-happy as he is, Erdogan and his team were well aware that destruction of the Russian warplane will inevitably spark a serious conflict with it. Then, what made them go on such a perilous adventure?
To understand this, it is necessary to remember that the ideology of Neo-Ottomanism the ruling Justice and Development Party is based on is the center-piece of Turkey’s current policy and is very popular among the poorest sections of the population in that country. Neo-Ottomanism is the ideology of the revival of the Ottoman Empire.
Erdogan’s Cabinet has been gradually implementing a policy of “attracting” the countries and regions that once were part of the Sublime Porte to the area of its interests. Turkey has actively used “the stick and carrot policy” in the relations with the countries having “Ottoman” past. For instance, in the relations with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan, Turks used mainly “carrot” i.e. the nationalist trick saying “Turkomans of all countries unite.” Meantime, they used mostly “stick” towards Egypt, Syria, and Iraq by fomenting and triggering various “revolutions” and power shifts to bring pro-Turkish forces to power in those countries.
About ten-fifteen years ago, Turkey prioritized development of economic and humanitarian relations with the Muslim regions of Russia (the North Caucasus, Bashkiria, and Tatarstan) along with propaganda of “Neo-Ottomanism-Turkism” there. By interfering in the domestic affairs of Russia, Turkey often played on the edge. For instance, Russia’s security services had repeatedly publicly blamed Turkey’s security forces for participating in the Chechen conflict on the side of the so-called “Ichkerians.” Russia’s leadership constantly had to call the functionaries of the MIT (Turkey’s intelligence) for order, as they ventured too far. Nevertheless, the sides managed to keep the balance in their relations until recently. Russia hoped that long-term economic cooperation with Turkey and the undoubtedly mutually-advantageous relations will make the proponents of Neo-Ottomanism cool heat and avoid using Russian elements to build their “common Ottoman home.”
Nothing would have changed, but for the Syrian conflict that put the things straight. Russia was well aware that a fall of the Syrian “bastion” will throw the entire Middle East into turmoil that will sure spill over to its territory. So it interfered with the conflict, which has automatically led to a collapse of the “Neo-Ottomanism” card castle that Turks have been carefully building in the region during the last ten years. Without Turkish factor dominating in Syria, the project of the “Greater Turkey” will fail due to the geographical and political features of the Middle East. The first wave of panic struck Turkey’s establishment as Assad’s government troops began to attack, Russia’s Aerospace Force started destroying the targets of ISIL (that turned out to be the main pro-Turkish ‘battering ram’ in Syria), anti-Turkish sentiments rose in Egypt, the Crimean-Tatar chauvinists (Turkey has been supporting them for already 20 years) lost Crimea. Then, Turkey’s authorities decided not to let Russia in the region. But how?
The Turkish architects of Neo-Ottomanism have nearly no time left, as they are losing in nearly all fronts. Finally, they decided to escalate the situation by triggering a direct military and diplomatic conflict with Russia. However, the Turkish leadership is not “a self-destroyer.” They hoped Russia would not go beyond demonstrative steps and heated rhetoric, as the Russian economy is experiencing hard times under pressure of sanctions, and would not hit the economic component of the Russian-Turkish relations and will somehow try to maneuver in the Syrian conflict admitting that Turkey is playing the leading part in the Syrian “bloody orchestra.”
Meantime, Russia retaliated the way Turks did not expect. It took unprecedented tough and - what was especially painful for Turks – long-term measures to neutralize Turkey’s influence in the region. This sparked a second wave of panic in Ankara. The political establishment in Turkey is outraged with Russia’s steps. After all, it (within a few days) increased its armed forces along the entire perimeter of the eastern and western borders of Turkey, stepped up the efforts towards destruction of ISIL targets (Turkey is known to be the main consumer of the stolen oil), wrapped up big projects in the economic cooperation with Turkey and blocked all the initiatives of Turkey through diplomatic channels. In other words, Russia pressed Turkey on all fronts and did not let it enforce its ideas of “Neo-Ottomanism.”
How will Turkey retaliate?
Some analysts say Turkey needs a “large-scale war” now, as it is the only chance for the newly appeared proponents of “Neo-Ottomanism” to revive their erstwhile grandeur. However, it is not all that easy. Turkish politicians are very pragmatic. Even the most radical proponent of “Neo-Ottomanism” understands that in case of a direct clash with Russia, Turkey has no chances to win at least because the forces (resources, arms, diplomatic support) are not-proportional.
A big war between Turkey and Russia is hardly possible, but Ankara will use all the other measures to influence Russia. One should not underestimate Turks when it comes to confrontation with Russia. The latest developments show that despite panic, the constructive change of Turkey’s stand is hardly possible anytime soon. Turkey has resorted to all its resources in the diplomatic fight. For instance, the pro-Turkish lobby in Russia – it is fed by various funds and commercial organizations with Turkish capital – now urges Russia (!!!) not Turkey to take steps towards normalization of the relations. Russia’s “allies” from the Turkic-speaking countries still avoid expressing their stand on the situation. Turkey used the factor of Bosporus (an important logistic artery for Russia), deployed troops in Northern Iraq, persuaded U.S. and Europe to urge Russia achieve an agreement with Turks, and directly threaten to unfreeze the Karabakh conflict (where Turkey supports Azerbaijan’s aggressive policy against Russia’s closest ally – Armenia and in case of resumption of hostilities, Russia will have to interfere).
Russia gave Turkey a chance to overcome with dignity the situation it had driven itself to by its policy of political adventurism (read Neo-Ottomansim). They just needed to apologize, pay compensation to Russia and admit their guilt. However, Turkey refused to do it, which was quite predictable. The problem is that the Turkish politicians simply cannot admit their “mistake,” as Turkish voters will immediately cast doubt on the “firmness and uncompromising stand” of their leadership. Given the marginalized society of Turkey, this will result in the fall of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party and the collapse of Turkey on the example of Iraq and Syria.
It is noteworthy that Turkey’s actions are not systematic. They are rather apological, and there is panic and chaos in their counter-measures against Russia. The card castle of “Neo-Ottomanism” collapsed so suddenly for Turkey that it began to escalate the situation locally trying to stop the “Russian bulldozer” that is smashing the destructive political constructions on its way and returning to the region as a guarantor of peace.
P.S. At the moment of writing this analysis, it became known that Russia has toughened the sanctions against Turkey even more actually “withdrawing” the Russian capital from the tourist sector of Turkey and the Turkish capital from the infrastructure development and construction projects in the territory of Russia.
To be continued…
Political analyst Arman Abovyan (Yerevan), for EADaily