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Is 13 the Charm?

Updated on February 9, 2016

The Russian Plane

During its attempt to restore order favorable to Russian interests in Syria, Russia lost a fighter plane to Turkey. There are two sides to the story. The Turks claim the plane violated Turkish air space. The Russians deny it. Although Wikipedia is by no means a totally reliable source, it lists twelve Turkish-Russian Wars beginning in the late 1500s. America has many fine colleges and universities, with no shortage of Russian scholars, so these conflagrations, essentially pitting the Russian Empire against the Ottoman Empire, are not unknown. But one wonders if our politicians have an appreciation of history in a part of the world that is not first and foremost on their minds. Russia is not a strange, exotic country; it need only be studied, analyzed, possibly paid a visit, and in various ways, grasped, in order to achieve an understanding. But it is strange in that it borders a number of nations in both Europe and Asia, many of which have formed alliances in the past with nations it does not border. Hence, there is confusion, especially on the part of the amateur historian. In fact, for the uninitiated, Russian history, culture, and political science is totally mindbending. More importantly, what about either the outgoing or, as will eventually be the case, the incoming leaders, who will no doubt be required to deal directly with a more hawkish Russia?

Air Strike in Syria near Turkish Border

2014 -- U.S. led.
2014 -- U.S. led. | Source

Another Phoney War?

Basically, Russia included, hostilities toward Islamic forces, aiming to wrest control of the Middle East away from Western, Christian-related powers, are careful and limited. Only the rhetoric attached to them ratchets higher. The Phoney War followed the successful invasion of Poland by both German and Russian forces in 1939. Despite French and British alliances with Poland, supposedly as good as gold, neither helped. Hitler's go-ahead green light only glowed that much greener. It is much the same with what is finally becoming known as Radical Islam (the verbal war still rages as to what is the politically correct term). ISIS or ISIL (another mess) does not have free rein. But its opposition is disorganized and sporadic. Russia has left open the implication that the Turkish attack makes Turkey an implicit accomplice of terrorism. Not lost in the struggle for clarity is the fact that Turkey is a member of NATO, to which Russia does not belong. Any action against Turkey would automatically militate against a long list of additional countries.

Lately, the war-minded, mostly muzzled sector of the United States has been murmuring about how much it will monetarily cost to defeat ISIS. This is an interesting element in the larger scheme of things. Indeed, it will take billions to put this hitherto successful terrorist group to rest. In fact, at this point, everything is conjectural. Further, it is not imperative that American troops go mano-a-mano against ISIS. Thus far, the current leadership will not permit anything close to full throttle when it comes to yet another engagement in the Middle East. Many are against the terrifying possibility of our soldiers having to take up permanent residence. There was also talk, recently, how it might be more advantageous for Russia to become embroiled in a region that has been at war almost since the end of WWII. Fighting Russia by indirection, is already an old, workable strategy. Many questions lurk about concerning the proposed fate of ISIS -- how far it can go, if it can survive better equipped armies, or, will it simply vanish only to rise up again under new banners? ISIS is an attention-grabber, but by no means the only source of trouble.

Will It All Blow Over?

November, December, January, February . . .

One cannot say nothing has happened or that discordant words have not been exchanged, but the Turks are only an item in Russia's overall itinerary, just as the opposite also obtains. Russia is not at war with Turkey, nor vice versa. To answer the question: no, thirteen is not the charm. Nevertheless, Russia has sworn not to take the event of November 24, 2015 lightly. Apparently, not just the United States, but other, powerful nations, who carry big sticks, may not speak softly, but proceed with noticeable caution. Rushing into things is no longer the favored option. Surely, Russia could respond strongly if it wanted to. But what is to gain? Not that esteem and global prestige are not worthwhile values. They must be maintained. It is just that payback might be more effective in a well-preserved state of potentiality rather than actuality.

What exactly is Russia after in Syria? If it is only to prop up Bashar Assad, it has not set off alarms in the U.S., which probably regards the attempt as unrealistic. Syrians dislike the Assads. They have their reasons, too. For still other reasons, that are not fully articulated, several nations, which have abiding interests in Syria, chose to stay out. To intervene is so much more dangerous given the instability of Syria. Its human tragedy is impossible to exaggerate. It cannot be downplayed. But a waiting game of some sort is taking place, the outcome of which is impossible to accurately predict.

Does Moscow Need Istanbul?

Haunting Historical Memories

Since the demise of the British Empire, it is hard for armchair warriors to come to terms with what was once a large matter of dispute. That is to say, the Dardanelles, which run right past Istanbul, connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. In doing so, they allow ships to cross from East to West. The Crimean War ended in 1856, a costly loss for the Russian Empire, which avidly sought control over the Dardanelles. Basically, French and British forces, along with those of the Ottomans and Sardinia, repelled the Russian aggressors. Queen Victoria, in her day, distrusted Russia's southern expansion. Are we seeing a new attempt today?

To be sure, the phrase, "ethnic cleansing", is not unfamiliar. But is it also known how long this sort of failure on behalf of humanity has been going on? During WWI, the Ottomans, under seige on three fronts, including, in the West, former friends, France and Great Britain, deported Greek Christians from the Balkans to make room for Muslims. On the way south to conquer, Orthodox Russians displaced substantial amounts of Muslims. During WWI, Islamic Turks slaughtered Christian Armenians. It suffices only to point out that the outbreak of violence and its continuation in Syria has lengthy roots in previous conflicts. Feelings of revenge and outrage never die but are instead passed along, generation to generation. It would be nice to be able to say, "So what?", and leave it at that. No wonder peacemakers are blessed. There are so few of them. Fewer still are efficacious.

The Guessing Game

There are numerous books out about both Putin and Syria. Then, of course, there are even more articles to bring the curious up to speed on just about every aspect concerning the Syrian conflict. In light of all this, the downing of a Russian plane by Turkey might seem a mere detail. From many perspectives, it could hardly be anything else. But there must be a toll to pay for any action that results in loss of life as well as impeding progress contra terrorism. This is not the first time something counter-productive has happened. The good part is the lack of an immediate response on behalf of Russia. It is weighing its options. After all, up till now, Turkey has been fairly neutral, neither part of the problem nor of the solution. Its history against Russian forces includes significant amounts of casualties on both sides. So many soldiers and civilians have died fighting one another or getting caught in the crossfire. Thus, one can only guess at what will happen next.

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