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      Even Russian Opposition Bloggers Are Outraged by Turkey's Warplane Attack

      Even Russian Opposition Bloggers Are Outraged by Turkey's Warplane Attack Even Russian Opposition Bloggers Are Outraged by Turkey's Warplane Attack Even Russian Opposition Bloggers Are Outraged by Turkey's Warplane Attack
      Photo via Haberturk TV Channel/EPA

      Middle East

      Even Russian Opposition Bloggers Are Outraged by Turkey's Warplane Attack

      By Alec Luhn

      While Turkey was framing its downing of a Russian bomber near the Syrian border as self-defense, in Russia the incident was received as an act of aggression and assisting terrorists.

      Reports in the Turkish media were depicting a clear border violation after the Russian plane was warned repeatedly to leave. Flight radar data published by the Turkish military appeared to show that the SU-24 had crossed a small piece of Turkish territory near the Syrian border province of Idlib, and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was Turkey's duty to defend its territory.

      But an entirely different picture was being painted in Russia. The defense ministry initially said its plane had been brought down by "ground fire" from Syria. 

      Although President Vladimir Putin later admitted the plane had been shot down by a Turkish F-16, he said this had happened over Syrian territory, where Russia has been hitting both the Islamic State (IS) and rebel groups with bombs and cruise missiles. He insisted the plane hadn't posed a threat to Turkey and was fighting terrorists in border areas who mainly originated in Russia.

      After it was reported that at least one of the pilots had been killed, marking Russia's first official casualty in the Syria conflict, even some opposition bloggers were expressing outrage.

      The difference in narrative dates back to the beginning of Russia's involvement in the Syria conflict. Since the bulk of Russian airstrikes have hit rebels threatening Bashar al-Assad, the West has said Moscow is mainly interested in bolstering its ally in Syria. 

      Putin has admitted this, but argued that backing Assad is the best way to fight IS, which he said poses a direct threat to Russia. State media, the main source of information for most Russians, has in turn portrayed the air campaign as one against IS and other assorted "terrorists."

      Tensions have been rising near the Syrian-Turkish border in recent weeks as Russian jets have flown frequently from the coastal airbase in Latakia on the Syrian coast toward targets in Idlib and Aleppo closer to the border. 

      In October, Turkish jets shot down a drone that a US official said was Russian, although Moscow denied ownership. A Russian military delegation reportedly traveled to Turkey after two airspace violations to apologize and iron out the issue.

      Moscow could not as easily dismiss Tuesday's downing of its plane, with Putin promising "serious consequences" for an act "carried out by accomplices of terrorists." 

      Turkey helped fund IS by buying its oil, Putin suggested, and if the hundreds of millions of dollars in IS oil revenue was now being protected by the armed forces "of entire governments" it was little wonder the militants were so brazen.

      Several media pundits in Russia were calling the incident a "provocation" to further Ankara's unstated goals, going as far to suggest a plot to disrupt Russia's anti-terrorist campaign. Some noted that Turkey has been concerned with the growing influence of the Kurds, a key element in the West's struggle against IS who have long sought an independent homeland in areas of Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

      Maksim Yusin, a foreign affairs correspondent at the newspaper Kommersantclaimed on the radio station Kommersant FM that it was no accident this incident occurred the same week that French President Francois Hollande was visiting Washington and Moscow to seek a coalition against ISIS, which would strengthen the Kurds and Assad.

      "For this reason Erdogan has gone for a provocation, expecting that we will conduct ourselves recklessly, emotionally, we'll be thinking up steps in response that will provoke a crisis in relations between Russia and the West, after which it won't be possible to talk about any coalition or any definitive actions by us in Syria," he said. 

      Others seized on reports suggesting that Turkey has been buying oil from IS, as Putin had hinted at in his statement when he noted that the terrorist group was able to "conduct itself so insolently and obnoxiously" because of its oil revenues.

      "Is the downed Russian plane revenge for the fact that our aviation bombed an ISIS oil storage facility and refinery? Turkey is for ISIS?" tweeted nationalist writer and television pundit Alexander Prokhanov, referring to widely publicized strikes on oil infrastructure in Syria last week.

      On state television channel Rossiya 24, Middle East analyst Yevgeny Satanovsky argued that Erdogan had "gone mental" after Russia obstructed his plans for "liquidation of Syria."

      "We stepped on the most painful part of his organism, on his wallet and on the feeling that the sultan can do whatever he wants," Satanovsky said.

      Even Ilya Varlamov, a popular blogger who was a fixture of the anti-Putin street protests of 2011-13, was clearly emotional as he live-blogged the developments around the Su-24. "The Turks have gone fucking insane, of course," he tweeted

      Skepticism of Turkey's actions ran high, regardless of whether the Russian jet violated its airspace. Former pilot Vladimir Popov said on Rossiya 24 that the Su-24 could only have been over Turkish territory for a matter of seconds or minutes. The pilots "would know that they could accompany us protecting their borders, but they couldn't have expected an attack," he said.

      The White House later said the same thing, reported the Guardian. Initial indications were that the Russian incursion into Turkish airspace lasted just a few seconds, said a US official.

      Several television pundits called on Russia to retaliate for the loss of its pilots. Satanovsky said "nothing should be left" of the Syrian Turkmen-populated area where the pilots came down if it was confirmed they had been killed.

      "The response should be harsh … this territory should be destroyed," said analyst Yevgeny Primakov on Rossiya 24.

      Topics: russia, syria, turkey, war & conflict, middle east, putin, politics, geopolitics, islamic state, war on terror, idlib, aleppo

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