Russians have long memories. The Turkish air force shooting down a Russian SU-24 fighter bomber at the Turkish, Syrian border last year will not be forgotten for a long time, especially by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin’s rage over the incident will ensure that Russia and Turkey will be on a collision course until Putin leaves power.
If you haven’t noticed, Russia is most likely building another air base in northern Syria, near the Turkish border. Although they deny this agenda, journalists report upwards of 200 Russian engineers working on the runway at an abandoned airfield in Qamishli, Syria. Since the shootdown, Russia has deployed S-400 anti-aircraft missile batteries to protect Russian forces in-country. With an extremely long range, these systems essentially allow Russia to target Turkish aircraft inside Turkey. Russia has also recently deployed a limited number of SU-35 frontline fighter aircraft to Syria as well. While the purpose is most likely for testing of tactics and equipment in a combat theater, the fact that these advanced planes are on the Turkish border is an ominous development.
Moscow’s plan for its forces in the Middle East remain unclear. The deployment is costing the Kremlin a lot of money at a time when money is very scarce during Russia’s current economic contraction. It is likely that Russia intends to stay in the Middle East for the foreseeable future, the budget issues be damned. That is the way Putin and his comrades in the Kremlin think. He is looking at Russia’s long-term position of power in the world.
It is for that reason that the Turkish vendetta is so dangerous. Putin is building up Russia capability on Turkey’s border and waiting for the right moment to strike, when Turkey, and NATO, are at a disadvantage and most likely will not strike back, just to make his point and avenge Russia’s military honor.
Most likely NATO realizes these facts and sees the Russian buildup for what it is. This is most likely why the United States just allocated several billion dollars to maintain another armored brigade in Eastern Europe, primarily to protect the Baltic nations on the alliance’s northern tier.
With President Obama removing most American forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. will have a tough time matching a growing Russian footprint in the Levant. However, the only way that American can ensure the Russian, Turkish situation doesn’t get out of hand is to spend money and treasure in the region when they really don’t want to. The cost of not containing the situation may be much higher.