Think tank roundup: The most discussed events of the month at Russian think tanks included the shoot-down of the Russian Su-24 over the Syrian-Turkish border and the global spread of ISIS terrorism.
Turkish and Russian military officers salute as a Turkish honor guard carry the coffin of Russian Su-24 pilot Oleg Peshkov into a Russian Air Force transport plane at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey, on Nov. 30, 2015. Photo: AP
In the month of November, Russian experts actively discussed Turkey’s shooting down of the Russian Su-24 warplane, terrorist attacks in Paris and in Egypt, and the visit of French President François Hollande to Moscow.
The future of Turkish-Russian relations
On Nov. 24, a Turkish F-16 fighter plane shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber over the border between Turkey and Syria. The Russian warplane was on a combat mission to destroy terrorists. Turkey claims that the Su-24 violated its air space, but Russia denies these allegations and says that it suffered “a stab in the back from terrorists' accomplices.”
Russian experts are divided when it comes to the assessment of measures that Russia should implement in response to such a serious military incident. Some support a hardliner approach, while others advocate maximum de-escalation of the current tense situation.
Sergei Aleksashenko, an analyst with the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, criticized the hardliner approach. He believes that the severance of strong trade and economic ties will have a negative effect on Russia primarily because Turkey supplies a wide range of basic goods, such as chicken, turkey, and vegetables, and it will be difficult to find a replacement quickly.
Moreover, Aleksashenko emphasizes that it will be extremely difficult to restore a good relationship with Turkey later, and Russia needs to take this into account, especially since its list of reliable partners is growing short. Turkey is also not likely to forget that it was accused of abetting terrorism.
"Putin made an unjustified political move against Turkey, and people in that part of the world get easily offended and know how to hold a grudge," says Aleksashenko.
"Turkish leadership crossed the line and should pay for its act of aggression," Avatkov urges. He also states that Ankara's rash decisions not only jeopardized Russian-Turkish relations, but also undermined the efforts on the creation of a global anti-terrorist coalition.
Andrei Movchan, an economist and expert with Carnegie Moscow Center, sharply criticizes the Russian government's response. He finds it counterproductive and harmful for its own people.
Movchan is convinced that sanctions against Turkey will result in higher inflation rates, shortages of basic goods, and the collapse of the travel industry, which already took a huge hit after the loss of Egypt as a tourist destination.
Russian sanctions will adversely influence other important areas, such as construction, logistics, and even the power industry. Movchan emphasizes that in the end Russia will shoot itself in the foot and weaken its position in the region and on the global market.
Terrorist attacks in Paris and Egypt
On Nov. 13, Paris was shaken by a series of terrorist attacks, the bloodiest tragedy in modern French history. ISIS terrorists killed 130 and injured over 300 people.
The world, including Russia, was deeply shocked, but only several days later Russians faced a tragedy of their own when the FSB revealed that the crash of the Russian airplane in Egypt in the end of October was the result of an ISIS terrorist attack. These two events, along with other major acts of terrorism that occurred last month, made Russian experts reevaluate the relationship between Russia and the West.
Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Center hopes that Europe and the West in general will take the type of rational approach that has always been considered a pillar of Western society. He is not talking about putting aside all the differences, forgetting the situation in Ukraine, and ignoring other longstanding points of disagreement.
Rather, Baunov implies that the world should unite to resolve one specific issue. He asserts that terrorists make no differentiation, and for them we are all enemies, so the terrorist threat can only be removed if the world’s powers join their efforts.
"The world experienced a dark shift. It would be wrong to assume that the darkness spread on its own, and it is clear that state borders can no longer contain it," Baunov philosophizes.
Andrei Kazantsev of MGIMO-University also calls for joining efforts in the fight against a common foe. He thinks that the evil cannot be defeated unless the world forms a broad coalition, including not just Russia, the U.S., and the EU, but also China, India and the Arab countries. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, the West abandoned its argument that Putin exaggerated when he said that, "Terrorism is a challenge to the entire civilized world.”
Fyodor Lukyanov, the chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, has his doubts about the creation of a unified front in the fight against Islamist radicals. He believes that a broad military coalition will not succeed in defeating terrorism and points out that there many times in history a military success did not guarantee overall victory.
Ideas are a lot harder to defeat, so the world should set ideological warfare as its priority. Lukyanov is positive that Nov. 13 is going to become the French and European counterpart of the American 9/11, and Europe will never be the same again.
François Hollande in Moscow
On Nov. 26, French President François Hollande visited Moscow. After the tragedy in Paris, Hollande is trying hard to unite major world powers in the fight against terrorism, so a lot was expected to come of his visit.
Moscow was hoping that the West would finally show appreciation for Russia's anti-ISIS operation in Syria, but Russian analysts were more skeptical, and it looks like their position was more realistic.
In his interview about Hollande's visit, Lukyanov points out that even though Hollande was definitely trying to ease the tensions after the downing of Russian Su-24, he was not successful in the creation of a broad-based coalition. Lukyanov is convinced that at the moment too many political forces are working against the formation of a unified anti-terrorist front.
"It looks like external forces are vested in the weakening of the terrorist state, but regional powers have other priorities. Thus, if a coalition is possible, it will likely be external rather than all-encompassing and unified," Lukyanov explains.
MGIMO expert Mikhail Troitsky foretold that negotiations will fail even before they started. In his opinion, the talks could play a major part in the de-escalation of tensions on the global arena, especially after Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24, but political interests are too diverse, and the assessment of the current situation varies greatly.
Besides, every time Russia and the West talk about Syria, they stumble upon their differences over the future of Bashar al-Assad, whom Moscow continues to support. Troitsky fears that failed negotiations and growing international tensions can trigger further problems, and then Syrian regional conflict will spill over to other countries and become even harder to contain and resolve.
Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, tries to be optimistic in believing that the downing of the Su-24 did not eliminate all opportunities for the creation of an anti-terrorist coalition. Of course, there was no reason to believe that Hollande would publicly condemn Turkey, its NATO ally, but the French President was predominantly vested in his country's agenda.
The French people are hoping that Hollande will be active in the fight against ISIS terrorists, so the possibility of forming a coalition is still there, and Russia is seen as an important potential ally in the matter regardless of existing differences.