On April 16th, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan assumed near-dictatorial control in a narrowly won national referendum. Just over a week later, Erdogan ordered a wave of airstrikes on American-backed Kurdish militia in Iraq and Syria, killing as many as seventy people.
Volunteer aid workers breakfasting near the Syrian border. A massive, joyous peace rally in the centre of Ankara, the nation's capital. Foreign tourists taking in centuries-old monuments in the heart of old Istanbul. And, finally, a convoy of military personnel, again in central Ankara. With nearly 200 people killed in just seven months, the beat goes on in Turkey. Four attacks, four targets, one goal: more terror, chaos, and violence.
Turkey is getting ready to widen the reach of its military considerably by building a multipurpose aircraft carrier with “trans-continental” capabilities. The 225-meter ship dubbed the Anadolu (or Anatolia), set to enter service in 2021, is designed to take fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, tanks, troops, and landing vessels to areas around the Mediterranean and as far as the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, officials say. While some analysts say Turkey needs a carrier like this, some regard the project as an expensive expression of prestige and grandeur that far exceeds the country’s limits.
Russia sent an advanced missile system to Syria on Wednesday to protect its jets operating there and pledged its air force would keep flying missions near Turkish air space, sounding a defiant note after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet. Underscoring the message, Russian forces launched a heavy bombardment against insurgent-held areas in Latakia on Wednesday, near where the jet was downed, rebels and a monitoring group said.
Let's start with one thing that's clear and simple in Syria's messy war: Many foreign powers are engaged in the battle, and all share the goal of beating back the Islamic State. This very loose grouping includes Turkey and Russia, who aren't best friends, but at least have this common interest in Syria that would seem to override any inclination to confront one another.
The downing of a Russian military plane by Turkish forces has introduced another layer of complication to the Syrian crisis and raised fears over possible escalation and the potential for a direct conflict between the US and Russia. To get the Turkish perspective on this incident, I spoke with Steven A. Cook, the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, about why the Turkish military would take such dramatic action and what this could mean for the future of Turkish-Russian relations and Turkey's policy toward Syria. What follows is a transcript of my conversation with Cook, lightly edited for length and clarity.
NATO on Tuesday rejected Moscow's explanation that its warplanes had violated alliance member Turkey's air space by mistake and said Russia was sending more ground troops to Syria and building up its naval presence. With Russia extending its air strikes to include the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he was losing patience with Russian violations of his country's air space.
Syria's warring parties declared a 48-hour ceasefire in two frontline areas on Wednesday after unprecedented mediation from Turkey and Iran, signaling a new approach by some of the main regional backers of the opposing sides. The ceasefire halted fighting between insurgents on the one hand, and the army and its Lebanese militant Hezbollah allies on the other, in the rebel-held town of Zabadani and in a pair of Shi'ite Muslim villages in Idlib province.