Yesterday, Turkish forces shot down a Russian fighter jet that Turkey claims breached their airspace. Turkey say the jet crossed from the Syrian border into Turkey several times in a few minutes.

Russia have been running airstrikes in Syria targeting ISIS and the rebellion against the country’s leader Assad (The U.S. and France have operated airstrikes there too, but just against ISIS). 

Russian leader Vladimir Putin claims the jet was taking part in such a mission today, saying that the jet was a kilometre away from Turkish airspace when it was attacked, and that it fell on Syrian territory.

Turkey claims they warned the jet about the airspace breaches ten times before shooting it down.

Both of the jet’s pilots were seen parachuting out successfully. At least one of them is thought to have been captured by Turk-allied fighters in Syria, and graphic images apparently show anti-Assad rebels around one pilot’s dead, bloodied body. 

There are reports that a Russian helicopter deployed in the region to rescue the pilots was also destroyed by anti-Assad rebels, leading to another Russian casualty.

Putin claims the incident “represents a stab in the back by the terrorists’ accomplices.”  

This whole deal is unique in the escalating crisis in the region, as it represents the first time major players in the area excluding Syria, Iraq and related rebels – in this case, Turkey and Russia – have been involved in a direct conflict. 

It’s also a legitimate cause for concern, and any escalations from here have the potential to blow the conflict wide open.


SYRIA

Syria is where the whole thing kicked off, so it makes sense to start here.

As part of the string of Arab Spring uprisings in the past five years, a rebellion formed against the country’s leader Bashar al-Assad. The conflict has kicked on into a full-blown civil war, and it’s brought some serious instability to the region. Right now, Assad remains in power – technically. 

RUSSIA
Putin & Co. support Assad’s leadership. The Russian authorities believe the current Syrian government has the greatest chance of fending off the broader threat of ISIS – more on them later. It’s also likely that the continued support of the current Syrian regime will give Russia another foothold in the Middle East. 


What’s more is that Turkey and Russia have a rivalry that runs deep. Hundreds of years deep. In the past few years, they’ve been on okay-ish terms, but this incident has messed things up royally. 

TURKEY

The Turks aren’t cool with Assad. Not one bit. Before the Arab Spring, they were in talks to form a partnership with Syria, allowing Turkish transportation easier passage to the Persian Gulf states. The Spring kicked off, and Turkey urged Assad to step down so their deal would still work. Assad said no. Turkey cut ties and they backed the rebels, mirroring the actions of the United States. Speak of the Devil…

USA

America supports the Syrian rebels. Barack Obama told the U.N General Assembly Assad was a “tyrant” who “drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children.” NATO nations including Turkey (and Australia) support the US’ stance. (Worth noting: Russia is most def. not a NATO nation.) 

THE TURKMEN 

This is where things get tricky. The Turkmen are an ethnic group that are by no means Turkish. Still, they still have strong diplomatic and historic relations. The Turkmen are also fighting against Assad in Syria, and Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan said today any bombing runs in the north-east area of Syria – looking at you, Russia – also target “our brothers and sisters.” 

THE KURDS

You should know about the Kurds, too. Another ethnic group widespread across the region, particularly Iraq, they haven’t been shit at fighting ISIS. They’re no fans of Assad, but a Kurdish leader recently said ISIS toppling him “would be a disaster for everyone” due to the ensuing power vacuum.

The U.S. are biiig backers of the Kurds. One problem: Historically, Turkey and the Kurds have not done much outside hating each other. Deeply. 

WHAT NOW?
Well, this muddies France’s attempts to fuck ISIS up after the attacks in Paris due to the possible division between the Turkey-supporting U.S. and the Assad-supporting Russians. But, for the moment, Julie Bishop has come out and given a statement on the matter calling for a calm and measured response. Other leaders have done the same, but Putin is understandably worked up ’bout it. 

The U.S.A says the Turkmen (and, by extension, Turkey) have the right to defend themselves if they’re being bombed, but it’s unclear if retaliation against them in particular will be part of Putin’s “serious consequences.” 

Commentators have already tackled the idea this is a catalyst for World War III. In any case, this is definitely a serious incident, and whether it’ll spin out into a wider conflict is yet to be seen. 

Still, though. Not good. Not good at all. 

Story via ABC

Image: Sasha Mordovets/Leigh Vogel/Universal History Archive via Getty.