Erdogan has a trump card against Putin that would transform the Syrian war
Following the downing of a Russian warplane last week by Turkey, Russia has shown no signs of letting up on its military operations near the Turkish-Syrian border.
Prior to the incident, Moscow ignored calls by Ankara to put an “immediate end” to its airstrikes on Turkmen rebel brigades operating along the border.
The tension culminated in Turkey’s decision to down the Su-24 fighter jet, which had been bombing units of Liwa Jabal al-Turkman — an ethnic Turkish group backed by Turkey — at the time it was downed.
Russia insisted the plane had been bombing “terrorists” in the area.
Burned by the incident, Russia deployed an advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system to the coastal province of Latakiaand ordered that all Russian Su-24s be equipped with air-to-air missiles. Russian warplanes have continued pounding Turkmen rebels — the Turkish aid convoysalong the border that supply them — with airstrikes.
These provocative moves are evidently meant as a message to deter Turkish jets from shooting down Russian planes in the future. But Russia has financial and geopolitical interests in keeping its retaliation asymmetrical — specifically, by bombing Turkish-backed rebel groups in Syria while refraining from engaging with Turkey in a military confrontation directly.
Asymmetrical or not, Turkey could feasibly perceive Russia’s military buildup along the Turkish-Syrian border as a serious threat and invoke its most valuable trump card: the Turkish Straits.
The straits, which consist of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus, are a series of waterways in Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea — and the Mediterranean — to the Black Sea.
Turkey, which has full control over the Dardanelles and the Bosporus under the 1936 Montreux Convention, acts as the straits’ custodian and regulates the passage of naval ships belonging to Black Sea states.
Russia currently depends on the unrestricted access to the straits afforded it under the Montreux Convention. Through the straits, it sends
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