An “accident” was bound to happen at some point and the way that the United States and the European Union have been acting toward Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led directly to on Tuesday’s incident, when the Turks shot down a Russian fighter jet.
Ankara has been playing a very dark game with Islamic State which no one was willing to talk about, despite the evidence. Erdogan has imposed a quasi-dictatorship in Turkey and has gone unchallenged by the usually sensitive West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed in a state of near-panic during her visit a few weeks ago to the neo-Ottoman palace of the Turkish leader, appearing without a solid plan or any red lines she would not cross. All of this combined gave Erdogan – who is already suffering from delusions of grandeur – an even more swollen head.
Turkey is without doubt a major regional power. The policy of “zero problems with neighbors” espoused by Ahmet Davutoglu while he was foreign minister has gone the other way. Fronts have been opened with Russia, Israel, Egypt, the Kurds, and on and on. Erdogan needed a playing field in which to display his determination to maintain the important image he has of himself. Thankfully, he didn’t choose the Aegean. Only now do we see how well-informed and wise certain government and military officials were when they warned of a possible altercation between Greece and Turkey. So far, this has been prevented.
But now we are entering uncharted waters. What will NATO do, since it can’t get involved in a war with Russia or completely ignore its obligations toward a member of the alliance? How will Russian President Vladimir Putin react given that his image could suffer if he doesn’t respond in kind? Last but not least, how will the incident affect the convergence of opinion that seemed to have been emerging between the West and Moscow on how to deal with ISIS?
The geopolitical situation in this part of the world is shifting fast and dramatically. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions; enough self-proclaimed analysts are doing that.
Greece has cards and should play them right. It has nothing to gain from dealing with developments as though they are a misfortune that has only befallen Greece. One thing is certain. Erdogan is displaying the kind of hubris that history – throughout the centuries – has shown can lead to unpredictable and spasmodic behavior.
Major changes are occurring in the region, a fact that contains a lot of dangers, but also opportunities.