Russia's President Putin

Russia’s President Putin

What Russia did yesterday was — let’s face it — unconscionable, foolhardy. You don’t keep buzzing another country’s airspace provocatively when told to desist. Several times before yesterday’s tragic incident resulting in Turkey’s downing of Russian Su-24 fighter jet across the Syrian border, Russia had zigged in and zagged out of the United States’ airspace on several occasions. It had done the same to the United Kingdom, and to just about every major power under the umbrella of the all-mighty NATO.

What Turkey did yesterday was — let’s not finesse it — crassly stupid, suicidal, to say the very least. That Russian jets were “invading” your airspace time and again in the last one month should not have been sufficient reason to shoot down its jet, just three weeks after its commercial flight was downed by explosives claimed to have been planted inside the ill-fated plane by ISIS, and just two weeks after Russia has also resolved to throw its superpower weight into the scale in the emerging coalition against ISIS. The larger point is, you don’t do such a thing to a major, fearsome military power simply because NATO is watching over you like a hen sitting protectively over its chicks against a hawk patrolling in the sky with eyes looking searchingly downwards. No, you don’t! Turkey acted unwisely, insanely.

The question Turkey should have asked itself is: When last did the US or the UK shoot down a Russian fighter or spy jet for straying into its airspace since the “New Cold War” began? Answer: No time. Reason: The fallout from such an action would be largely unpredictable. They know things could spiral out of control and, given the egotistical nature of leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the national pride of each of the countries whose resolve has been tested, events, once unleashed, could continue on a cascade into an irretrievable global conflict with consequences bordering on the apocalyptic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in human history.

If neither the US nor the UK, for instance, reacted those other times exactly the way Turkey did yesterday, it wasn’t because either country was weak, but because it was strong by choosing to tread the path of reason. But for the commitment which NATO has to sally out to its defense in the event of a Russian counter military measure, Turkey would never contemplate getting into any military conflict with Russia all by itself. A Pygmy does not tweak the beard of Gulliver and hope that the giant sees that as merely a joke.

So where do things stand now? I hope nothing is wrong with my eardrums, but I do hear tough talk and what sounds like war whoops coming from both Russia and Turkey. When Turkey is talking tough, it is NATO that is actually doing so. The organization says it is willing to jump into the fray. For mere mortals, anxiety is heightening as fears get gradually stoked. This is far more than Xanax can handle.

With a world-class egomaniac like Putin, the stakes could be even higher than we reasonably expect. For Putin is one Russian leader who is ever determined to ride the escalator to as high an altitude as possible with any belligerent leader ready for that deadly game, unless something by way of reason suddenly intervenes to cause him to consider chiefly diplomatic means to resolve the unfolding crisis. When things go bad, they have a tendency to get even worse. Putin has terminated all military cooperation with Turkey in the campaign to liquidate ISIS. Russian military authorities have said Turkey’s action would have “serious consequences.” And according to a top military analyst in Russia, a major armed conflict is “most likely.”

Against a possible Russian retaliatory attack, NATO is clearly just as determined to fulfill its obligation to defend its member. To this end, Britain announced today that it has military backup for Turkey. The US has also pledged to come to Turkey’s aid as well.

All of that, most concernedly, foreshadows a real crisis ahead. But in the end, reason will prevail, I’m most optimistic. Both parties to this building conflict will have to scratch their heads for ways to climb down without losing face. The most legitimate war that needs to be fought now is that against ISIS, not World War III. There is absolutely no reason for that.