Less than a month after the downing of a Russian jet by the Turkish military, the two countries came to heads again in the Aegean Sea. Russia continues to strengthen its forces near Syria, creating an uneasy space for the two nations.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that one of its destroyers, the Smetlivy, was forced to fire warning shots at an oncoming Turkish fishing boat on Sunday morning in the Aegean Sea. According to Reuters, Russia then issued a strong warning to Turkey.
The Ministry released a statement on the incident.
“The Turkish military diplomat was given a tough explanation about the potentially disastrous consequences from Ankara’s reckless actions towards Russia’s military contingent fighting against international terrorism in Syria. In particular, our deep concerns about more Turkish provocations towards the Russian destroyer Smetlivy were conveyed.”
The ship reportedly would not respond to the Smetlivy’s initial warnings or flares. It came within 500 meters of the destroyer before seeing the warning shots and quickly changing course, narrowly avoiding another deadly incident or as the Ministry put it, “only by luck was tragedy avoided.”
Turkey has not issued a full statement yet, saying they are still investigating.
Tensions have been high since November 24th, when the Turkish military shot down a Russian jet. According to the Guardian, Turkey said the jet was in its airspace for 17 seconds despite repeated warnings.
Moscow says it remained in Syrian airspace and called Turkey’s actions a “stab in the back.” Russia then issued economic sanctions against the country as punitive measures, which will cost an estimated $9 billion. Likewise, President Vladimir Putin publicly made stern orders for his military.
“I order you to act in the toughest way. Any targets threatening the Russian groups of forces or our land infrastructure should be immediately destroyed.”
Some observers say the orders were veiled warnings for Turkey. Putin also told military commanders that further provocations should be met with full force. Ankara says that they want to resolve the problem through dialogue, but Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would not rule out counter-sanctions.
He explained that he hoped the issue could be resolved without retaliatory measures, but “we will never accept being dictated to.”
The November 24th incident was the first time a NATO country downed a Russian aircraft in roughly half a century. According to the Christian Science Monitor, both pilots ejected before the jet exploded. One pilot was captured by Syrian rebels and killed. A naval infantryman died in the rescue mission for the other.
Earlier this month, another international incident surfaced because of photos of a Russian soldier brandishing a rocket launcher on the deck of a ship near Istanbul.
President Barack Obama has called for the two countries to peacefully resolve their differences and focus on the real enemy, ISIS.
Likewise, U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon called for de-escalation.
“All those who are engaged in military activities in Syria, especially air campaigns, need to maximize operational measures to avoid unintended consequences.”
The Turkish government, and others, have criticized Russia’s campaign in Syria as an attempt to keep embattled president Bashar Al-Assad in power, explaining that the November 24th incident took place nowhere near ISIS targets.
Likewise, a Reuters analysis showed that over 80 percent of Russia’s airstrikes have not been aimed at ISIS targets. Instead, many attacks have been against Turkmen, ethnic Turks that live in Northern Syria and oppose both ISIS and the Assad regime.
The attacks against Turkmen have expanded so much that Dr. Davutoğlu accused Putin of ethnic cleansing, which also leaves Turkey and Russia at odds.
[Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images]