By Seth Brandle | Contributor
After Turkish military shot down a Russian warplane on the border of Turkey and Syria in late November, international tensions escalated amidst the growing Syrian conflict.
Turkey claims that after the Russian plane entered Turkish airspace they shot it down with an air-to-air missile. This was after the pilot of the attack aircraft did not respond to multiple warnings from Turkish military units. Russia maintains that the plane did not violate Turkey's airspace and has condemned the action as "a treacherous war crime." Russian leadership in the Kremlin insists that the plane remained in Syrian airspace during its entire mission, which involved performing airstrikes on Syrian soil.
Both Russia and Turkey have been involved in military operations in Syria as a civil war rages between President Bashar al-Assad, rebels hoping to depose him and the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS.
An international coalition, which includes Russia and Turkey, has been performing airstrikes against ISIS-especially after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, although Russia has also been bombing Syrian rebel forces. Russia is a longtime ally of Assad and has been using the tumultuous situation with ISIS as an opportunity to help the Assad regime deal with the rebellion.
The downing of the Russian plane is a new wrinkle in the conflict in the Middle East that could have widespread consequences. Tensions between Turkey and Russia are snowballing, with rhetoric from both country's leaders becoming more and more combative. Turkish President Recep Erdogan refuses to express any regret for the downing of the aircraft, saying, "I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us . . . those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize."
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin of Russia said that Turkey's actions show they are sympathetic to the Islamic State and downed the plane in order to purchase ISIS-controlled oil.
He also rebuked them by saying, "Evidently Allah decided to punish the ruling clique in Turkey by depriving it of any reason or logic." Russia has also threatened that Turkey will regret this "more than once" and have already started putting bans on Turkish imports.
The United States has responded by acknowledging that Turkey has a right to defend itself, but also by encouraging both nations to move forward from this event and work together on common interests. President Barack Obama said his top priority is to prevent escalation. As the de facto leader of the international coalition fighting against ISIS, the United States would prefer the efforts of coalition forces be focused on eliminating the militant terrorist group.
So far this goal has not been too far out of reach as both Turkey and Russia continue to perform airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria almost daily. Only time will tell if the downing of the Russian aircraft will continue to escalate into a larger diplomatic crisis or if working together against a common enemy will allow the countries to come to a peaceful understanding.