PKK | Turkey's downing of Russian warplane may have Kurdish or pipeline angles: Source

Turkey’s downing of Russian warplane may have Kurdish or pipeline angles: Source

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The circumstances behind the first-ever downing of a Russian military jet by a NATO member are still unclear. But there are several possible scenarios for the incident which is triggering a major diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Russia.

Kurdish PYD fighters in northern Syria
Kurdish PYD fighters in northern Syria

An informed Russian intelligence source who asked not to be identified told Asia Times that it’s too early to draw solid conclusions about the shoot-down of a Russian warplane by Turkish F-16 fighter jets near the Syrian border on Tuesday. However, the source outlined the following scenarios as possible contributing factors:

-Russian planes could be providing support for detachments of Kurds — a move that might have underscored fears in Ankara that Moscow is supporting Kurdish rebels in Turkey;

-Russian pilots may have attacked the villages of Syrian Turks situated along the border. Such attacks are said to have occurred in the last week — causing extreme irritation in Ankara;

-Over the past week the Russian Air Force was actively attacking oil/petroleum convoys delivering “illegal” oil products from ISIS to Turkey. The people involved are said to have made a fortune on this trade and given the purported level of corruption in the Turkish society including Turkish military, it was a serious blow upon certain “interests” in Turkey including the military;

In addition, the source speculates that the real motive for the jet downing might have nothing directly to do with Russia’s military intervention in Syria.

A meeting of the “highest importance” was scheduled  on Nov. 25 by a Russian-Turkish Intergovernmental Commission but is now on hold. The two sides were supposed to finally agree on a) gas prices for Russian gas for Turkish internal consumption due to be delivered via planned Turkish Stream pipeline built on the bottom the Black Sea, and b) sign preliminary documents on the construction of this pipeline.

“The Turkish Stream project has always had a lot of enemies in America, Europe and Turkey itself,” the source said. “It looks like the meeting in Istanbul got shot down along with the Russian Su-24. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has already announced that he will not go there. I think that the whole project was shot down — or at least drastically postponed — for the foreseen future.”

Meanwhile, IHS Country Risk said in an entirely separate analysis Tuesday that there’s increased likelihood of incidents such as the Russian jet shoot-down “due to the increasing direct involvement of sponsors of the ongoing proxy war in the conflict,” though “outright war” can be ruled out at this time.

IHS analysts Ege Seckin and Firas Abi Ali also said in their assessment that the jet downing’s immediate impact will likely be limited to a diplomatic crisis. “However, future such incidents between Russia and Turkey are highly likely, as neither side is willing or able to back down,” they said.

More plane downings and occasional exchanges of artillery fire between Syrian and Turkish troops are increasingly likely,  the analysts said. At the same time, Putin’s decision to refer the plane downing to the UN Security Council is said to signal his effort to contain the escalation for now.

“However, in the medium term, Russia and Turkey both have escalation options against one another. Russia can increase the price of Russian gas, while Turkey can provide support to insurgents within Russian Caucasian republics and in Crimea. Russia is also likely to retaliate indirectly by increasing support for the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat: PYD) and its Turkey-based counterpart, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan‎: PKK),” the analysts said.

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Doug Tsuruoka
Doug Tsuruoka is Editor at Large of Asia Times. He is a former AT Editor in Chief who has worked for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Newsweek, Asia Times' original print edition and other major media. He has reported from Japan, Korea, Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia.