Why did Turkey shoot down Russian fighter jet?

The potential consequences of Turkey’s decision to shoot down a Russian fighter jet for allegedly violating its airspace are chilling. But the West must not overreact.

The potential consequences of Turkey's decision to shoot down a Russian fighter jet for allegedly violating its airspace near the Syrian border are "chilling", says John Bradley in the Daily Mail. This is the first time in 50 years that a Nato country has brought down a Russian jet. Be "under no illusion" it was a "calculated" effort to undermine Russia's campaign against Islamic State (IS) as well as its recently formed alliance with France.

Islamist-ruled Turkey, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is "strongly opposed" to Russia's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has "openly supported jihadist groups in Syria" fighting him. Turkey's frontier with Syria has been described as a "two-way jihadist highway".

Given the circumstances the jet apparently posed no immediate threat to Turkish security the decision to bring it down is likely to have had other motivations, agrees Ranj Alaaldin in The Independent. It could provide a "useful diversion" as Ankara seeks to ramp up its military campaign against the Kurds, who have established themselves as a reliable Western ally, creating in the process an autonomous Kurdish region that is revitalising Kurdish nationalism in Turkey.

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Turkey is "getting desperate". Erdogan's "misguided and costly" policies towards the Syrian conflict over the past four years are going wrong. Assad suddenly looks set to hold on to power as part of a transition plan, as the international community switches its focus towards defeating the likes of IS.

As Shashank Joshi points out in The Daily Telegraph, relations between Russia and the West had "thawed slightly" in the wake of the Paris attacks. An overreaction by US and European members of Nato will not help, says Richard Haass in the Financial Times. Turkey is unlikely to fall out seriously with Russia, on which it depends for gas.

The US, European and Arab countries opposing IS should not allow this to "sidetrack" efforts to build a better international response to the jihadist group. For all Putin's posturing, Russia is "not a superpower" and the "threat it poses to Western interests should be dealt with but not be exaggerated". And it is not in the West's interests to see Assad ousted before a "viable alternative is ready to step in".

Many Russia analysts in the West are "horrified" at the idea of "making common cause" with Moscow against IS, says Gideon Rachman in the FT. They argue that Russia's annexation of Crimea and military engagement in eastern Ukraine were "such fundamental breaches of international law" that Russia presents the greater threat to world order. They also say that Putin's real motive in Syria is to re-establish Russian power in the Middle East and that keeping Assad in place will empower the jihadis, because hatred of him is "their biggest recruiting sergeant".

These arguments cannot be dismissed, but foreign policy is about setting priorities. Right now, given the "direct and immediate security threat" to our cities, beating IS "is rightly the top priority".

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.