In light of the ongoing situation in north-western Syria, it is worth considering what options are available to the Kremlin in terms of their response to Turkey after the Turks downed a Russian SU-24.
First, let’s note what the Russians won’t do; they won’t directly respond in anyway. There probably won’t be direct military action against Turkey, because of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty.
NATO’s Article reads in part:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all…”
While a clever reader may note that most of Turkey is in Asia Minor and not technically in Europe, and thus the Russians could potentially wage a war against Turkey as long as they steer clear of Istanbul, it seems unlikely that the Russians would risk this liberal interpretation of Article V.
Also it is worth noting that the downing of aircraft between NATO and the Soviet Union occurred multiple times in the 50s and 60s and it did not lead to direct war.
All right, so the Kremlin won’t be annexing Anatolia anytime soon, but what can they do?
As of now the Russian government has been shaping the narrative by claiming that this was a “stab in the back” and that Turkey is trying to “put the alliance [NATO] into the service of ISIS”.
Bellicose language like this will not get Mr. Putin far outside of Russia, but it will save some face domestically. While the claims being applied in this instance are utter nonsense when looking at a map like this one from the Institute for the Study of War and comparing it to the location of the shoot down, Mr. Putin could feasibly drum up xenophobia in the citizenry of NATO countries who frequently say to “kick Turkey out”. Especially as Turkey has faced changes in the domestic sphere as a conservative strongman– President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tightened his grip on power.
However, due to there being no mechanism in the North Atlantic Treaty for “kicking out” a member, and the strategic significance of the Bosporus Strait in containing the Russians, more than likely the response by Moscow will consist entirely of outrage and diplomatic wrist slaps.
Cover Photo Credit: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)