Yet Another Nationalist Spat: Russia and Turkey back at odds

Nov 27 2015

For centuries, the Russian Empire and Ottoman Empire fought each other, Russia usually emerging victorious The rivalry stretches back to the 1500s when the first Russo-Turkish War took place in 1568. 

Ten more wars between the countries would take place until 1917, and in the 20th Century, the Republic of Turkey’s decision to join NATO kept embers of the ancient showdown alive during the Cold War.

And now, nationalism has pitted the Russian Federation and Republic of Turkey against each other once more. On Tuesday, the Turkish Armed Forces shot down a Russian SU-24 plane which had crossed into Turkish airspace. Both pilots ejected from the plane in time to avoid injury, but were captured by a Syrian Turkmen militia fighting in Syria. One is dead, killed by the militiamen that found him. The other has been transported to Turkey and will be returned to Russia.

In a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Putin, visibly angry, condemned the attack in choice words, calling it a “stab in the back” and publicly accusing Ankara of supporting the Islamic fundamentalists in Syria and Iraq under the table. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled his trip to Turkey upon hearing the news and called it a “planned provocation”.  The Turkish Embassy in Moscow was the subject of a raucous protest where stones and eggs were thrown at the building.

Ankara fired back immediately, insisting they were merely defending their territory and that they had warned the jet to change course multiple times before they shot it down.

Russia has been crossing into Turkish airspace many times since the Kremlin decided to get directly involved with the Syrian Civil War. Russia possesses a military base in northern Syria not far from the Turkish border.

Luckily, tensions calmed down a bit. The Turkish Foreign Minister expressed his condolences to Mr. Lavrov and opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called for a deescalation of tensions.

It’s important to remember even with the angry words thrown about that further escalation leading to war between Russia and Turkey is a very distant and unlikely possibility. Despite the strength of both countries’ armed services, war would be catastrophic for both sides. Russia risks walking into a direct conflict with NATO, an event that could only end in worldwide disaster, and Turkey would almost immediately sink their energy sector into oblivion as they receive ample supplies of natural gas from Russia.

Neither side has much of a moral high ground in this spat. Not long after the plane was shot down, evidence emerged that the Russian SU-24 plane was in Turkish airspace for just 18 seconds. While NATO and Turkey have both warned that unwanted planes in their airspace could lead to the use of force, Ankara’s decision to shoot down a plane for spending mere seconds in their air comes across as trigger-happy and as if they were looking for a fight. It’s true that this is hardly the first time Russia has crossed into foreign airspace much to the irritation of various EU countries, but the Turkish Air Force regularly patrols and crosses into Greek airspace, which implies they operate under the idea of “Do as I say, not as I do”. The Russian pilot that has returned to Turkey has claimed the Turkish Air Force never warned him that they would use force, further complicating matters.

It is too early to tell whether this will lead to a significant change in policy when it comes to Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War, but it certainly doesn’t help much. A concrete solution to the Syrian Civil War could be delayed because of this spat and it’s sent a chill into relations between Moscow and Ankara. Turkey’s vehement opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad, who is supported by the Kremlin, will likely become more pronounced, as Ankara was quick to voice its skepticism about a “grand coalition that included Russia to defeat Da’esh. Whispers of a ceasefire and a permanent resolution may be on hold. Some have speculated that it’s time for Russia to directly arm the Kurds in northern Syria and stand by them when this war ends. This is a noble idea in theory as the Kurds have been Daesh’s bane  for many months, but it would infuriate Turkey, which still suffers from a festering wound in its conflict with the PKK. Turkey’s place in NATO will also contribute to hurting an already frayed relationship between the organization and the Kremlin. Closer to home, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has speculated that the energy ties Moscow and Ankara may be put under some strain.

Both Russia and Turkey are driven by a strong sense of patriotism and even nationalism. Russia’s centuries of history have produced a rich and complex culture and a perseverant people. Russians are often known for being very patriotic even when things look grim. Likewise, In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk laid the foundation for a new and advanced secular republic in a region still struggling to find identity from colonial occupation and plenty of internal wars. Turkey, despite its problems, has grown into a wealthy, democratic, secular, and influential power. Ataturk’s thoughtful and determined likeness is everywhere in Turkey, from the bills and coins of the lira to the names of landmarks throughout the country.

Patriotism is a noble value which both countries possess in large quantities. Nationalism, however, can be venomous, especially if it incorporates an ethnic element rather than a civic element.  And pride can blind a government into rash action that it can come to regret. When two fiercely patriotic countries clash with centuries of bad blood in the rearview mirror, someone’s bound to end up hurt, or killed. It’s time to put aside pride and make sure this is an isolated incident.

by Kyle Menyhert

Ten more wars between the countries would take place until 1917, and in the 20th Century, the Republic of Turkey’s decision to join NATO kept embers of the ancient showdown alive during the Cold War.

And now, nationalism has pitted the Russian Federation and Republic of Turkey against each other once more. On Tuesday, the Turkish Armed Forces shot down a Russian SU-24 plane which had crossed into Turkish airspace. Both pilots ejected from the plane in time to avoid injury, but were captured by a Syrian Turkmen militia fighting in Syria. One is dead, killed by the militiamen that found him. The other has been transported to Turkey and will be returned to Russia.

In a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Putin, visibly angry, condemned the attack in choice words, calling it a “stab in the back” and publicly accusing Ankara of supporting the Islamic fundamentalists in Syria and Iraq under the table. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled his trip to Turkey upon hearing the news and called it a “planned provocation”.  The Turkish Embassy in Moscow was the subject of a raucous protest where stones and eggs were thrown at the building.

Ankara fired back immediately, insisting they were merely defending their territory and that they had warned the jet to change course multiple times before they shot it down.

Russia has been crossing into Turkish airspace many times since the Kremlin decided to get directly involved with the Syrian Civil War. Russia possesses a military base in northern Syria not far from the Turkish border.

Luckily, tensions calmed down a bit. The Turkish Foreign Minister expressed his condolences to Mr. Lavrov and opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called for a deescalation of tensions.

It’s important to remember even with the angry words thrown about that further escalation leading to war between Russia and Turkey is a very distant and unlikely possibility. Despite the strength of both countries’ armed services, war would be catastrophic for both sides. Russia risks walking into a direct conflict with NATO, an event that could only end in worldwide disaster, and Turkey would almost immediately sink their energy sector into oblivion as they receive ample supplies of natural gas from Russia.

Neither side has much of a moral high ground in this spat. Not long after the plane was shot down, evidence emerged that the Russian SU-24 plane was in Turkish airspace for just 18 seconds. While NATO and Turkey have both warned that unwanted planes in their airspace could lead to the use of force, Ankara’s decision to shoot down a plane for spending mere seconds in their air comes across as trigger-happy and as if they were looking for a fight. It’s true that this is hardly the first time Russia has crossed into foreign airspace much to the irritation of various EU countries, but the Turkish Air Force regularly patrols and crosses into Greek airspace, which implies they operate under the idea of “Do as I say, not as I do”. The Russian pilot that has returned to Turkey has claimed the Turkish Air Force never warned him that they would use force, further complicating matters.

It is too early to tell whether this will lead to a significant change in policy when it comes to Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War, but it certainly doesn’t help much. A concrete solution to the Syrian Civil War could be delayed because of this spat and it’s sent a chill into relations between Moscow and Ankara. Turkey’s vehement opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad, who is supported by the Kremlin, will likely become more pronounced, as Ankara was quick to voice its skepticism about a “grand coalition that included Russia to defeat Da’esh. Whispers of a ceasefire and a permanent resolution may be on hold. Some have speculated that it’s time for Russia to directly arm the Kurds in northern Syria and stand by them when this war ends. This is a noble idea in theory as the Kurds have been Daesh’s bane  for many months, but it would infuriate Turkey, which still suffers from a festering wound in its conflict with the PKK. Turkey’s place in NATO will also contribute to hurting an already frayed relationship between the organization and the Kremlin. Closer to home, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has speculated that the energy ties Moscow and Ankara may be put under some strain.

Both Russia and Turkey are driven by a strong sense of patriotism and even nationalism. Russia’s centuries of history have produced a rich and complex culture and a perseverant people. Russians are often known for being very patriotic even when things look grim. Likewise, In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk laid the foundation for a new and advanced secular republic in a region still struggling to find identity from colonial occupation and plenty of internal wars. Turkey, despite its problems, has grown into a wealthy, democratic, secular, and influential power. Ataturk’s thoughtful and determined likeness is everywhere in Turkey, from the bills and coins of the lira to the names of landmarks throughout the country.

Patriotism is a noble value which both countries possess in large quantities. Nationalism, however, can be venomous, especially if it incorporates an ethnic element rather than a civic element.  And pride can blind a government into rash action that it can come to regret. When two fiercely patriotic countries clash with centuries of bad blood in the rearview mirror, someone’s bound to end up hurt, or killed. It’s time to put aside pride and make sure this is an isolated incident.

by Kyle Menyhert

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them, we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.