Imperialism, Middle East

Turkey shoots down Russian military aircraft – Comment

War in Syria escalated with Turkey downing a Russian military plane on the Syria-Turkey border. The incident has brought into focus the turmoil in the Middle-East which has become the most troubled region in the world. The incident shows the intensification of contradiction among imperialist powers and the regional powers aligned to them. All these powers claiming to fight the Islamic State are pursuing their own agenda. Turkey which had initially refused to join the US led coalition against IS, later joined it bombing the Syrian Kurds which were holding their own against the IS and had carved out an area of self-rule. Western imperialist powers support anti-Assad Jihadis while Russia is bombing all anti-Assad militant groups including the Islamic State. Iran is supporting Basher Assad regime while Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are financing and supporting their own groups of Jihadis. The scramble to secure their influence in Syria is resulting in high casualties mainly of civilians. More than half of the population of Syria (20 million) has been forced to leave their homes and take shelter elsewhere, half of these inside Syria and another half outside Syria. Every imperialist power and regional power aligned to them is trying to secure its foothold in Syria through militant groups to be stakeholder in the negotiations on Syria’s future.

Turkey’s downing of Russian military plane is obviously a deliberate move to send a message to Russia to desist from attacking the forces aligned to Turkey. Nothing more, nothing less. Turkey foreign ministry had called Russian Ambassador to Turkey to protest against Russian bombing of Turkmens aligned with Turkey. Earlier Turkey had proposed to US and other western powers to impose a no-fly zone and create a safe haven for anti-Assad forces in this region of Northern Syria which did not fructify and with Russia’s direct participation in the Syrian war is now beyond the pale. Erdogan and his AKP had fought the election on national chauvinist platform targeting Kurds’ struggle and also attacked the secular sections of ruling classes asserting its religious and sectarian identity. So defending Turkmens in northern Syria serves AKP’s domestic agenda as well as its expansionist designs. Downing of the Russian military plane was no accident nor a result of ‘miscommunication’ as later called by Turkish Premier as even according to Turkey’s version the plane remained in Turkish airspace only for 17 seconds. Shooting down a military aircraft is obviously a serious act and Turkey cannot be unaware of that. First asserting its right to punish violators of its air space and later toning down of its rhetoric by Turkey is due to advice of caution administered by NATO brass. Any talk of Turkish rulers of defending sovereignty is all the more misplaced as Turkey has organized flow of militants, arms and supplies into Turkey to overthrow Basher Assad regime. Turkey has been blatantly and regularly violating the sovereignty of Syria.

Turkey was also piqued with coming together of Russia, US and France in their war against Islamic State. After Paris killings, French President has vowed to wage ‘pitiless’ war against the Islamic State. He has met US President Obama and is set to meet Russian President Putin with his message. In fact Russia and US have been cooperating in Syria to an extent and Hollande’s efforts are geared towards sorting out the controversial points. Turkish action is a reaction to these efforts and is meant to at least secure that Turkish concerns be taken on board while this front if forged.

Putin called Turkey’s act as “stab in the back by accomplices of terrorists”. Russia also pointed out the involvement of ruling AKP politicians and family members of President Erdogan in the trade of oil from the areas under the control of the Islamic State. However, Russian rulers will like to use this incident to bolster their military presence in the area rather than take immediate retaliatory action against Turkey. Russia has moved its S-400 aerial missile defence system which will enable it to target Turkish planes with high degree of precision. Russia will give time to western imperialist powers to restrain Turkey from disrupting developing yet fragile cooperation between Russia and other western powers in Syria. Obviously regional allies of western powers like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are not at all pleased with this limited cooperation as it comes with increasing role of Iran and its allies and pushed the question of ouster of Assad to the backburner.

Besides direct participation in the Syrian civil war, Russia is also developing close military cooperation with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and also Iraq. US had manueavred to replace Maliki with Abadi. However given the composition of Iraq Govt. and pressure of fighting the Islamic State which controls sizable part of Iraq, Abadi Govt. is coming under increasing pressure to align with Russia. Russia is trying to increase its role in the region utilizing the overextended nature of US interests which are often contradictory. Abadi govt. is resisting the pressure to forge close relations with Russia despite setting a centre for sharing intelligence but the developments are making it difficult for Abadi to resist it for long.

Turkey’s downing of Russian military plane is being utilized by different actors, particularly different imperialist powers to further their aims in the region. While they pretend their unity on fighting the Islamic State as it rules over vast swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, their differences came to fore during Vienna Summit as well as in reactions to Turkey’s action. Saudi King laid the entire responsibility of rise of IS on western powers’ refusal to take military action to depose Basher Assad. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are parroting this line to buttress their case for removing Assad from power. However western powers have to admit that it was the military occupation of Iraq by US imperialists and their allies which was resisted by Iraqis and which ultimately led to rise of the Islamic State. Tony Blair, self-confessed poodle of George Bush, admitted as much recently. The events of Libya where western imperialist powers had militarily intervened to overthrow Gadaffi regime have also exposed western powers’ claims about their military action. Basher Assad on the other hand has denied that IS had its origin in Syria, instead pointing to Iraqi roots of its forces and leadership. Rise of Islamic State in Syria is partly due to large scale movement of Iraqi refugees to north eastern Syria after US occupation of Iraq. According to a report over 1.3 million Iraqis had taken refuge in that part of Syria by the year 2007.

Rise of Islamic State has its origin in the resistance by Iraqis to the US occupation of Iraq. Military, intelligence and administrative officials of Saddam Hussein regime are playing the main role in military successes of the Islamic State as also in stably administering large territory under their control. Based on the documents Speigel’s Christopher Reuter reported that senior Iraqi officers from Saddam Hussein’s regime constructed a plan to use AQI as a vehicle to retake Iraq. Their documents detailed a strategy uncannily similar to what ended up happening: The group would use Syria as a launch platform for a massive invasion of Iraq. According to a report by Josy Joseph published in Hindu (November 17) “The interrogation details paint the emergence of a highly militarized state, where everyone seems to have basic military training. It also shows the IS is operating more like a modern nation state than a medieval unruly entity, which may have been much closer to the bloody ideology they believe in.”

Confronting Islamic State has been the new holy cause of imperialist powers in pursuit of maintaining and increasing their stronghold in the region. Decline of US imperialism, particularly its unwillingness to commit large military forces after catastrophic occupation of Iraq which has led to abrogation of the borders drawn by British and French imperialists after the world war I. Russian Czar too was party to that agreement and was going to get some European parts of Turkey and total control over Black Sea. Thanks to Bolshevik Revolution, Russian Govt. repudiated the Treaty, rather it was Bolsheviks who published this ‘secret’ treaty. New Czars of Russia wish to correct that ‘mistake’ and stake their claim to parts of Middle-East. In this they are coming into conflict with new Ottomans ruling Turkey. Descendants of Sykes and Picot are trying to bomb their way to relevance in the region once controlled by them. However, these churning has given the opportunity to Kurds to advance their national aspirations and they are seizing it offering sacrifices to realize their longstanding aspiration for their homeland.

A new Middle-East is rising among the wars unleashed in its different parts. While most of the attention is focused on war in Syria, Gulf monarchies are conducting continuous air strikes against Houthis and Yemen Army to put their nominee, Hadi, into power. Nearly 10 thousand people mostly civilians have died in this war where gulf monarchies led by Saudi Arabia have failed to wrest control of the capital while their troops are facing casualties. Saudi rulers have invested much in this war where they are facing tough situation, In Palestine, Palestinians are waging another Intifada against Zionist Israeli rulers whose brutal annexationist drive is encountering determined resistance from the Palestinians. This resistance is threatening to upset the efforts of US imperialism and its allies in the Middle-East.

Conflicts in the Middle-East are a complex interplay between the contradictions between imperialism and nations of the region as well as among imperialist powers along with their regional reactionary allies. The way these contradictions are expressing themselves has made the whole region extremely unstable and shaky. The petroleum cake is bound to be incendiary.