Did Washington just tell Erdogan to 'man up'?

Finian Cunningham
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan © Umit Bektas
In the space of a few hours, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went from running scared to defiant belligerence over the shooting down of the Russian fighter jet. It would appear that someone had a stiff word in his ear.

Tough-talking Turkish President? No. More like somebody’s message boy.

When the news first broke on Tuesday that Turkish F-16s had downed a Russian Su-24 bomber near the Syrian border, the Erdogan government in Ankara immediately called for an emergency NATO summit.

Ankara rushed to explain that it was the party that had incurred an act of aggression from Russia. Erdogan was running scared because the facts were such that it was the Turks who had actually carried out an act of aggression against Russia, not the other way around.

And they knew it.

Suspiciously, Ankara did not contact Moscow about the incident, which would have seemed a normal thing to do in the aftermath of a serious incident in which a Russian aircrew was forced to eject and one of the pilots was subsequently killed.

Recall that Turkey claimed that it did not know the identity of the Russian warplane as it allegedly approached Turkish airspace. So if, as it turned out, the Turks shot down a Russian jet in a rapid encounter of uncertainty about its “national security”, then why didn’t Ankara make subsequent attempts to resolve the matter with the Russians as an urgent matter when the circumstances soon became clear? That would have been the expected behavior if the incident was simply an unfortunate, unforeseen confrontation.

Again, the inference is that Ankara knew full well that it was committing a sinister deed.

As noted, Ankara hastily conferred with NATO, rather than Moscow. That act alone of running off to NATO suggests that the Turks were well aware from the outset that they had carried out something underhand against Russia, and they were hurriedly seeking a line of protection from the US-led military alliance.

The day after the incident, Erdogan and his Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were seriously back-pedaling over the whole incident. The Turkish version of the confrontation appeared to be unraveling from a lack of credibility with several anomalies in terms of the flight path of the Russian fighter jet. Even Western sources were beginning to acknowledge that Moscow’s version of the incident was correct in the details that the Russian jet did not cross the Syrian border.

The unsettling conclusion beckoned: the Russian jet was hit unlawfully by the Turks.

Erdogan was busily saying through Wednesday that he did not want an escalation of the conflict between Turkey and Russia. Davutoglu was even more craven, saying, in pleading tones, that “Russia is a friend and a neighbor.” Ankara’s foreign ministry sounded abject by almost begging for Moscow not to cut off supplies of natural gas on which Turkey depends for 60 per cent of its fuel consumption.

Then came a sudden, dramatic gear-change in Ankara. On Thursday, Erdogan sounded a markedly different, more belligerent tone, more in line with the initial event of the shooting down. Maybe it was because Moscow had said that Russia was not contemplating going to war with Turkey over the downed jet. But Erdogan appeared to become emboldened in contrast to his sheepish conduct over the preceding 24 hours.

The Turkish president said that his country would not be offering an apology to Russia over the downed jet and the loss of its pilot, as well as the death of a Russian marine soldier killed by militants while trying to rescue the second airman where the Su-24 bomber came down in northern Syria. Erdogan instead upped the defiant rhetoric and implied that Russia should be the one to offer an apology for its alleged infringement of Turkish territory, even though the evidence points to the opposite.

Erdogan also spoke publicly on Thursday to rubbish Russian accusations that Turkey is financing the Islamic State (IS) and other jihadist groups through sales of crude oil. The Turkish leader, moreover, claimed that Turkey’s “fight against IS is indisputable” and he asserted that only the US-led military coalition, which includes Ankara, is combating terror groups in Syria. Russia and Iran are not waging a fight against the IS network, claimed Erdogan, implying that they are merely propping up their ally – the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Erdogan told France 24 news channel that he tried to phone Russian President Vladimir Putin about the downing of the jet, but that Putin did not take his call. Earlier, Moscow had bitterly remarked that it had not received any communication from Ankara over the incident.

So what happened, whereby Erdogan and his ruling clique appeared to go through a remarkable shift in attitude in the space of a few hours? From pugnacious to pusillanimous and back to pugnacious almost overnight.

Assuming that the shooting down was approved at the highest level of the Ankara government in circumstances that merit the description of an act of aggression or even war against Russia, that was certainly a bold, recklessly daring move. However, for the next 24 hours, Ankara appeared to have been overcome with trepidation about what it has just done. But then Erdogan seemed to acquire some backbone from somewhere by resuming a truculent attitude towards Russia.

The erratic behavior points to Erdogan and his cronies in Ankara not being in control of their own conduct. Of course, we can only speculate at this stage. But let’s make the reasonable conjecture that Ankara carried out the aerial ambush of the Russian jet in a cold-blooded, premeditated way, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

Let’s also conjecture, reasonably, that the deliberate act of aggression was carried out with the collusion of the United States, which operates a NATO base in Turkey’s Hatay Province adjacent to the Syrian border where the incident occurred.

It makes sense that Washington sanctioned the aerial ambush knowing that the resulting geopolitical tension would scupper moves elsewhere from French President Francois Hollande for the formation of a broader anti-IS coalition to include the participation of Russia.

Why the US is not serious about forming such a coalition, indeed is implacably opposed to it, is because Islamic State and other jihadist mercenaries are a covert creation of the US and its NATO allies, including Turkey, for the objective of regime change in Syria.

Thus, Erdogan’s Turkey carried out the dirty deed against Russia under US authorization. But in the immediate aftermath, Ankara evidently got cold feet about what it had just done, no doubt fearing the wrath of Russia. That’s when Washington got on to Erdogan and told him to grow some balls. Hence the apparent turnaround feistiness out of Ankara in the space of 24 hours.

Which just goes to show that Erdogan, for all his tough talk, is really nothing more than a pathetic, sniveling little message boy for his boss in Washington.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.