Some Russians have described [Wednesday's] shoot-down in larger historical terms: it is the first time that there has been a real, military conflict between Russia and NATO, wrote the liberal Slon.ru. Russian officialdom, however, is framing this squarely as a conflict between Russia and the hotheaded, trigger-happy Turks. Wednesday’s evening news, dedicated almost exclusively to the incident, made much hay out of the fact that Washington and Europe, even NATO, spent all of Tuesday chastising Turkey and throwing cold water on the idea that one plane and one territorial incursion would lead to a wider conflict.
If anything, NATO and the Europeans are the good guys in this interpretation of events — certainly a first in recent Russian history. Why? Because Turkey, the villain in this story, is trying to derail a grand, historic coalition against terrorism, one that has Russia as its main axis. The de-escalation facilitated by Western powers, the evening news report noted, “is needed so that this conflict doesn’t harm the fight against terrorism in general and against ISIS specifically.” That is, Russia sees itself as doing the work necessary to protect the civilized world against the threat of terrorism, work that benefits France, Britain, and the United States as much as it benefits Russia. (Left unstated is the assumption that it doesn’t benefit Turkey, or its Islamist-sympathizing government.) It is analogous to the way Russia has portrayed its role in World War II, especially recently: Russia fought back the menace of fascism for the good of the ungrateful West, which would have drowned if not for Moscow’s help.
This is why, beneath the propaganda and cynical geopolitical maneuvering, Moscow finds Western critiques about its role in Syria so deeply frustrating, insulting even. To Russia, such complaints are as old as time, centuries-old efforts to block Russian imperial ambitions at every possible turn for no apparent reason — even to the point of lining up with the Muslim Ottomans against Christian Rus in the mid-19th century.