Russia-Turkey split endangers anti-terror fight

By Sun Zhuangzhi Source:Global Times Published: 2015-11-29 22:03:01

As Russia stepped up its strikes against the armed forces and facilities of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and France seeks Russian coordination after the brutal attacks in Paris earlier this month, the possibility has emerged that Russia and European powers, who have been at odds since the Ukraine crisis, could work together. However, the situation abruptly changed after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on Tuesday last week. The international anti-terrorism cooperation is subject to uncertainty and Russia's relationship with Turkey is undergoing a severe test.

In recent years, rampant terrorism has become both local and decentralized. This causes growing harm to the international community and makes it harder to prevent and combat terrorism. Given this, countries across the world have to work together and intensify cooperation to cut off the multinational network of terrorism. Regretfully, in the context of strengthened geopolitical interests, double standards are set concerning terrorism and this prevents the formation of a unified anti-terrorism campaign. Anti-terrorism even sharpens the conflicts between countries and regional security is thereby worsened.

Russia and Turkey have maintained stable political and economic relations after the Cold War. Turkey doesn't completely side with the US and EU over the Ukraine issue and instead continues to expand its energy cooperation with Russia. On this basis, it is no surprise that the two countries will enhance cooperation on regional anti-terrorism. However, as Moscow and Ankara's strategic interests are closely related with countries in the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, they have opposite opinions on certain issues.

Syria, wracked by civil war for over four years, is not only a flashpoint of terrorism, but a geopolitical whirlpool. Its neighbors and major global powers have become engaged in Syria's affairs to meet their own strategic interests. Russia's interests in the Mediterranean and aspiration of being a major power prompt Moscow to continue its long-standing support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The US partly intends to squeeze out Russian presence by fostering Syrian rebels and putting pro-Western forces in an advantageous position.

Meanwhile, Turkey, as a NATO member, sides with the US over the Syria issue. It strongly advocates setting up safe zone in Syrian areas close to Turkey. In this case, Turkey can hinder refugees from flooding into its territory, exert its political influence on Syria to consolidate its position as a power, and also prevent the state-building of the Kurds from splitting Turkey. So when Russia conducted intensive military attacks against IS to help Syrian government troops, the US and Turkey found their plans disrupted. 

In fact, Russia, the US and Turkey have escalated their finger-pointing at each other over the Syria issue. With Russia's air strikes expanding, Turkey warned against Russian jets crossing the Turkish border.  It seems the warplane tragedy should not have happened. Fundamentally it's because neither side would back down in terms of its national interests.

Some observers hold that after the warplane incident, Russia and Turkey will seek to address the crisis through political and diplomatic means, and European countries and even the US will get involved in mediation so that countries can reach consensus on fighting against IS and forge international anti-terrorism cooperation. However, the terror attacks in Paris have already prompted countries to realize the importance of cooperation, but Russia's warplane was still shot down.

To reverse the detrimental trend, countries involved have to throw over the narrow-minded considerations for geopolitical interests and prioritize global peace and regional stability in follow-up actions.

The author is secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Research Center, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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