How long can Russia maintain its sanctions against Turkey?
With the strength of Russia’s economy far from certain, steps against Turkey could cause more harm than good.
By: Robert Swift/The Media Line
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric towards Turkey has been harsh and assertive since the downing of a Russian combat jet on the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24th. The tension follows the shooting of a Russian SU-24 bomber intercepted by a Turkish F-16 fighter when it allegedly crossed into Turkish airspace while engaged in attacks against Syrian rebel positions close to Turkey. On Saturday, the Russian leader backed up his words with a raft of economic sanctions. Yet Russia, that is struggling under the weight of American and European sanctions, may not have economic resilience to apply such pressure to Turkey, a NATO member.
Putin’s decree bans charter flights between the two countries and has halted the work of Russian tour operators, who usually make a brisk business providing sunny holidays for middle-class Russians seeking respite from the long Russian winter. In addition, the declaration imposes immediate restrictions on Russian-Turkish commerce, including the fresh fruit and vegetables Russians crave, which Putin said would be replaced by Israeli, Iranian and Moroccan goods. He also cancelled a visa waiver for Turks, obliging them to file formal requests.
Turkish-Russian commerce is worth an estimated $31 billion annually, with Russian wheat and gas and Turkish agricultural products making up the bulk.
According to Jennifer Shkabatur, a lecturer at the Inter Disciplinary Center in Herzylia, Israel, “Russian companies will suffer from the sanctions maybe even more than Turkish companies.” Turkey is the one of the single largest customers of Russian natural gas, and serves as a crucial link in the key Russia-to-Europe pipeline, so it is unclear to what extent Putin will be able to withstand the losses in revenue to his own country. By imposing limits on Turkey’s purchase of Russian gas, Moscow could lose its ability to export to Europe, while Turkey could fill in its shortfall from Azerbaijan, Georgia and maybe even Israel, according to Shkabatur.
“(Economic) connections are so tight that any damage to Turkey will be even more damaging to Russia and it is much more isolated,” Shkabatur argued.
Russian jets have been bombing anti-government rebel positions since September, when Moscow surprised the world by deploying about 50 combat jets to air bases in Syria. Turkey has complained repeatedly about Russian violations of its airspace and harassment of its fighter jets patrolling the fractious border with Syria. Last week, in what many analysts considered a foreseeable consequence of two air forces posturing at each other, a Turkish Sidewinder air-to-air missile knocked the Russian jet out of the sky. The plane’s two crewmen were able to eject but the pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov, was shot and killed by Turkmen fighters as his parachute carried him to earth. The second crewman, Captain Konstantin Murakhtin, was rescue by a joint Russian and Syrian rescue operation.
A Russian marine was shot and killed during the recovery operation. The Turkmen fighters believed responsible for both Russian fatalities
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