Predictions that World War 3 will break out some time in 2016 — or even 2015 — have rarely seemed more realistic, according to an article in a leading online news magazine, after a Russian jets entered the airspace over Turkey twice over the past weekend, possibly on their way to Syria to carry out air strikes there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently embarked on a bombing campaign against rebel groups in Syria, marking an alliance with embattled Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
On Wednesday, Russia escalated the assaults with a naval barrage in addition to the air assaults, as Russian warships in the Caspian Sea fired 26 Cruise missiles at targets inside Syria. Whether the missiles hit those targets or caused significant damage to the anti-Assad forced was not revealed.
On Sunday, a Russian SU-30 fighter jet penetrated Turkish air space for what NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described as “a long time,” followed by a MIG-29 also crossing into Turkish aerial territory on Sunday.
While Russia claimed that the incursions were ‘a mistake,’ Stoltenberg rejected that claim.
“I will not speculate on the motives,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday. “I would just reiterate or restate that this is a serious violation of Turkish airspace, it should not happen again.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who opposes the Russian bombing campaign in Syria, calling it a “grave mistake” — also warned that further Russian violations of his country’s air space could result in a full-fledged military response.
And United States Secretary of State John Kerry echoed those concerns, warning that the violations, “could have resulted in a shootdown, and it is precisely the kind of thing we warned against.”
The United States also opposes the Russian airstrikes, with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter calling the Russian actions “a fundamental mistake.” While the Russians have claimed to be targeting ISIS terrorist fighters in Syria and the U.S. is also staging a bombing campaign against ISIS, American officials believe that the Russians are not striking at ISIS — but instead targeting other anti-Assad rebels in a mission whoe primary objective is to keep the Syrian dictator in power
But the aerial provocations are just one of the factors that threaten to turn the region into a powder keg that could explode into World War 3. According to a report in The Daily Beast online news magazine Wednesday, a splashy celebration in Grozny, the capital city of Chechnya, on Monday may have had a more ominous meaning.
The celebration was supposed to mark the birthday of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov — but Daily Beast and Newsweek Moscow correspondent Anna Nemtsova noted that Kadyrov had earlier promised a “celebration” once Putin gave the green light for Chechnya to send its own militia fighters to Syria, to battle against “Islamists” there. With Monday’s announcement by Russia that it would send “volunteer” soldiers to fight on the ground in Syria, it appears that Kadyrov was getting his celebration.
“So Kadyrov will have a chance to show off what the 20,000 well-trained soldiers in his militia can do,” Nemtsova wrote Wednesday. “The message of Kadyrov and the official pro-Kremlin press was relatively simple, and not unlike the refrain of the Bush administration more than a decade ago: ‘We’re fighting the terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them here.’”
But one Russian politician and historian told The Daily Beast that a quick escalation of Russian military operations in Syria could indeed set off World War 3.
“To prevent World War 3, it is important to understand the mechanisms of escalation, of mistrust in conflicts,” said Vladimir Rhyzhkov. “Without understanding the mechanisms, we won’t be able to avoid the repetition of historical events.”
While Putin’s motives in undertaking his highly dangerous military operations are the subject of speculation at this point, most experts agree that if predictions of World War 3 in 2016 come true, the reckless adventures of the Russian leader in Syria will likely be the cause.
[Images: Chip Somodevilla / Gokhan Tan / Getty Images]