Turkish president Recep Erdogan has thrown fuel on the fire by claiming he personally ordered Turkish jets to shoot down the Russian Su-24 bomber on Tuesday.
The facts strongly suggest this was a setup. Even by Turkey's account the Russian warplane was in Turkish airspace just 17-seconds. The profile it was flying left no doubt it was not hostile, to the Turks at least.
The Turks - make that president Erdogan - set this up to ambush the Russian bomber.
It's no simple matter to make a fighter intercept in these circumstances. It takes time, positioning, geometry. You pretty much have to be in a firing position, your missiles armed and ready, as soon as the target plane enters your airspace if you've only got 17-seconds to destroy it. That means you have to get set up well before the target reaches your airspace.
It speaks volumes that the Russian warplane crashed well inside Syrian territory. It could not have been very far inside Turkish airspace when Erdogan's fighters fired on it.
In 2012, the Syrians shot down a Turkish jet which had entered its airspace, and Erdogan’s furious response at the time was that “a short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack”.
(At the time, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen called it “another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms”. There hasn’t been a similar critique of Ankara.)
In Syria itself, the Russians are likely to put greater emphasis on attacking those groups under Ankara’s patronage. A strike on a Turkish aid convoy may be the first manifestation of this.
Meanwhile, the Turks will presumably arm and encourage those groups most able to give the Russians a bloody nose.
In this way, what wasn’t really a proxy war before is likely to become one.
This is a conflict that Ankara triggered and while it is being managed it is not going to go away. Nor is it just going to become another chapter in the histories of Russo-Ottoman rivalry. Expect to see this play out in snide, deniable, but nonetheless bitter actions for months to come.
Well the Russians do have a thing for revenge well chilled. Some day you may read about something untoward befalling a former Turkish president as the old man sat sipping sweet tea in a beautiful olive garden.R