Recently, Turkish F-16 fighters shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber. This is the first time a NATO member has shot down a Russian jet since 1952, when a US pilot shot down a Russian jet near North Korea. In 1960, the Russians shot down a US U-2 spy plane that was over Russian airspace. This is not the first time Russia and NATO have been involved in shooting down each other’s planes, and the previous instances did not lead to war. Will this recent one be any different?
Looking at the stories told by both sides, the Russian one survives the mathematical examination of the evidence provided. The Turks claimed that they warned the plane 10 times – in the 17 seconds that they claimed it took the Su-24 to transit a stretch of Turkish airspace less than 2 miles, which would require that the plane be moving at stall speed. The Russians claim that not only did their plane not transit Turkish airspace, but that they received zero warnings about the attack.
The Russians also point out that they shared the flight path information with the USA, as part of an effort to coordinate flights over Syria. The Russians now accuse the USA of sharing the flight information with the Turks, who then planned an ambush. To bolster the Russian side, they point out that the Turks had two F-16s in the area from an airbase 46 minutes away, while it took the Russians 34 minutes to reach the area from their base – the Turks were in place for an ambush. The Russians also demonstrate that it was the Turkish air force that entered Syrian airspace for 40 seconds at a height of 2400 meters to shoot down the Russian planes. That point of contention is underscored by a US officer’s leaking information that the Russian plane was shot down over Syria.
Circumstantial evidence includes the rapidity of producing professional videos of both the executed pilot and the attack on the rescue mission, along with evidence that Turkey has both been purchasing oil from ISIS and supplying it with arms and ammunition.
In response, the Russians have deployed anti-air surface missiles to the area and have moved naval support closer to the area. They have indicated that they will shoot down threats to their planes, and this can include jets in Turkish or Israeli airspace standing off Russian aircraft. While I don’t think the Russians will shoot first, I do think that the Russians will down any aircraft involved in firing upon one of its own. The Russians have acknowledged an increase in tensions and a decrease in their trust for the USA – which could result in NATO forces being banned from entry into Syria and Iraq, possibly even Jordan. It could result in Turkey losing access to gas supplies from Russia and Iran. It could result in a move to incorporate the Donetsk region into Russia. None of these moves, however, would lead to war.
Therefore, the decision to escalate remains in the hands of the USA and its allies.