Russia had it coming. Turkish fighter jets today shot down a Russian Su-24 in what was allegedly a violation of its airspace. Russia promptly denied the transgression but Turkey remains adamant it only acted in self-defense -- and after giving multiple warnings. If proven right, it won't be the first time Russian jets have made incursions into the Turkish territory. There are multiple reports of Russian jets getting too close for comfort in the past. The incident reflects the growing brazenness of the Russians after their much-touted quasi-invasion of Syria. It also indicates the limits of Russian power, contrary to what President Putin loves to boast about. His Syrian policy is bound for failure and coercion is not the right way of making others kowtow his line.
The downing might as well become the starting point of many cat-and-mouse games in the future. Still, Putin would have a lot to think about before ordering aggression of any sorts into Turkish territory. The latter is a NATO member and can seek assistance from allies. There is also a possibility that Turkey over-reacted but the Russian position is more vulnerable. The downed jet was operating in a foreign country without the auspices of the United Nations and without coordinating with the Turkish airspace controllers. No country can tolerate airspace violation, more so when coming from an alien rather than a neighbor.
Putin's Syrian endgame has been discussed at length on this platform and on other outlets. On the pretext of targeting the Islamic State, he's annihilating the moderate opponents of Bashar al-Assad. Putin believes in a scorched earth policy and couldn't care less for collateral damage. Russian jets are largely targeting civilians and abetting the Iranian and Hezbollah-backed militias. The policy has resulted in a high death toll and will not resolve the crisis, which, to Putin, is a complete restoration of the despotic regime.
Let's get our facts straight. Islamic State presents a real threat to the world. Russia might have done the world a favor by working with regional and global partners to address it. It could have spearheaded the emerging alliance to counter the threat. On the contrary, Putin has used the boogeyman to advance its blinkered agenda in the Middle East. The vociferous support for the brutal dictator has turned Putin into a villain in the Middle East and the broader Muslim World. This could also backfire at home where one-sixth of the Russian population is Sunni Muslim.
Putin tried to capitalize on the Western reticence over the Syrian crisis. He moved in to fill in the vacuum and impose his agenda. Luckily for him, it came on the heels of American and European retreat from the region. Paris attacks have changed the equation and U.S. and the EU are increasingly eager to get involved. One positive outcome of the emerging coalition is the consensus between France and U.S. on the ouster of the Assad regime, much to Putin's chagrin. He still has the advantage of having troops on the ground but that won't last long. Growing Russian casualties will stem the tide of public support in Moscow. Tensions with Turkey and Arab gulf states will also not augur well for Putin.
The so-called victory in Crimea and Ukraine doesn't mean Syria will also be a success. Propping up a genocidal dictator and dropping bombs on civilians is not the right way of projecting Russian power. Any future escalation between Turkey and Russia will inadvertently embroil NATO into the conflict. The world needs to resolve the Syrian crisis and root out the IS. The least it needs is another crisis brought on by Putin's irrational, self-aggrandizing policies.