Russian-Turkish Tensions Simmer Behind Naval Near Miss

Is the Russian-Turkey feud moving to the high seas? Illustrative naval ship. By Joshua Spurlock

Is the Russian-Turkey feud moving to the high seas? Illustrative naval ship. By Joshua Spurlock

Russia opened fire with warning shots on a Turkish ship on Sunday after the vessels came within 2,000 feet of each other in ocean waters that border Turkey. The incident, reported by the Russian Defense Ministry website, occurred in the Aegean Sea, which is between Turkey and Greece. Tensions between Turkey and Russia are high after Turkey shot down a Russian plane in the Syrian conflict.

While Turkey and Russia are both reportedly fighting ISIS (ISIL), they are on opposing sides in Syria’s civil war—Russia’s ally is the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has openly backed Syrian rebels. According to the Russian Defense Ministry’s post, Sunday’s warning shots were fired after repeated attempts to contact the Turkish ship failed. The shots were designed not to risk sinking the Turkish vessel. Russia intended to take the matter up with the Turkish embassy in Moscow, which isn’t the only diplomatic fight between the nations.

Recently, Iraq has complained to the United Nations about Turkish military forces moving into Iraqi territory as part of the fight against ISIS, and Russia’s Sputnik news website reported Moscow is backing Iraq against Turkey. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave “firm support” to Iraqi sovereignty in the matter, according to Sputnik.

In recent years, Iraq has become increasingly in the Russia-Iran-Syria camp, while Turkey has tried to carve out it’s own leadership in the Middle East.

After initially warming up to Syria, that regime’s civil war soured Turkey on Syria’s leadership, complicating Turkey’s relationships with Syrian allies such as Iran. Now Turkey finds themselves at odds with Syria and two of their friends—Russia and Iraq—while all fighting the same enemy in ISIS.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, December 13, 2015)

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