Society & Culture

Putin, Planes, and Position

Russian President Vladimir Putin was furious following the late-November destruction of a Russian war plane by Turkish fighter jets over Syrian airspace.  The Russians had been bombing “terrorist” positions inside war-torn Syria since September.  Less than two weeks before the incident, Putin thought he had reached agreement with his Turkish counterpart, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, on some contentious issues, including Ankara’s complaints that Russian war planes had been violating Turkish airspace.  The Russians gave signals to the West that Moscow would not overreact to what Putin called a “stab in the back” by the Turks (Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that “We are not going to start a war with Turkey”), but publicly warned of dire consequences if such an incident were repeated.

Putin, according to Ekho Moskvy radio’s Aleksey Venediktov, sees the world as divided among “friends,” “enemies,” and “traitors.”  Putin, Venediktov maintains, will deal with an enemy, but not with a traitor.  Following the downing of the Russian Su-24 war plane, and the killing of one of the Russian airmen (who ejected over Syria; a Russian marine was also killed in a rescue attempt) by Turkish-backed insurgents engaged in fighting Russian ally Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian army, Putin reclassified his former friend Erdogan as a...

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