It only took 17 seconds to upset the delicate balance of allied forces working against Daesh (aka IS/ISIS) in Syria. Turkish F-16 fighter jets responded to a limited airspace incursion with deadly force on the 24th of November. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in a meeting with the Turkish Justice and Development Party or AK Party, told reporters and those present that, “I gave the order myself.” This order resulted in the downing of a Russian Su-24 Fencer fighter/bomber, and the death of the pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov, who was shot by a rebel faction near the Turkish border as he parachuted to safety.
The navigator survived, but one of his rescuers, Alexander Pozynich, was killed while searching for the surviving crew member when his helicopter was downed by a rebel faction. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the incident a “stab in the back” from the “accomplices in Turkey,” which further challenges Turkey’s historically questionable actions and passive alliance with Daesh.
Turkey’s passivity toward Daesh has been tailored to encourage the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Russia’s direct action has been geared for the president’s defense and prolonged role as Russia’s regional strategic partner. Essentially, Syria is Russia’s answer to the U.S.’s longtime strategic partnership with Israel. Both partnerships are diplomatically meaningless to Turkey, but Assad remaining in power in Syria is not. Moreover, the Turkish government wishes to hinder further Kurdish autonomy, and the Russians are not opposed to it.
The Turks have also had a bone to pick with Russia following Russian airstrikes on Syrian-Turkmen villages targeted for harboring Daesh tactical targets. Despite the backdrop, Turkey is claiming border security concerns as their defense in the incident. This is an unfounded claim, as Turkey is one of the most prolific airspace violators in the modern world: They’ve accounted for many unauthorized airstrikes against Kurdish groups in Iraq, and 2,224 airspace violations into Greece in 2014 alone. In fact, a formation of six Turkish fighter jets violated Greek airspace on the 26th of November—just days after the Russian jet incident.