News & Politics

Turkish President Erdogan Blasts Vladimir Putin: 'Don't Play with Fire'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting of local administrators at his palace in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. Turkey has released audio recordings of what it says are the Turkish military’s repeated warnings to the pilot of the Russian plane before it was shot down at the border with Syria. Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24 bomber on Tuesday, insisting it had violated its airspace despite repeated warnings. Erdogan said Turkey had not specifically targeted Russia when it shot down the plane.(AP Photo/Kayhan Ozer, Presidential Press Service, Pool )

A few days ago, Turkish F16 jets shot down a Russian jet. Ever since, tensions between Turkey and Russia have been on the rise.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly threatened Turkey, and has taken action against Turkish citizens inside Russia. Some construction companies owned by Turks have been raided, trucks delivering flowers have been sent back at the border, and the Russian government has warned Turkish food producers that their goods may no longer be welcome in Russia.

At the same time, Putin has spoken out against Turkey’s Islamist ruler, President Erdogan, by accusing him of supporting terrorism. The Russian president said in a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande yesterday that Turkey has supported all kinds of Islamist groups in Syria, ISIS being one of them.

President Erdogan has now shot back. He has warned Putin not to “play with fire,” adding that Putin and Assad, not Turkey, are supporting ISIS:

Putin says “those who have double standards on terrorism are playing with fire.” I totally agree with him. Indeed, supporting the [Bashar] al-Assad regime in Syria, which has killed 380,000 people, is playing with fire. Striking opposition groups that have international legitimacy with the excuse of fighting against Daesh [an acronym of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL] is playing with fire. Using an incident in which Turkey’s righteousness is accepted by the whole world as an excuse to torment our citizens who were in Russia to attend a fair is playing with fire. Irresponsibly hitting trucks in the region that are there for trade or humanitarian reasons is playing with fire. We sincerely advise Russia not to play with fire.

He went on to say that the United States has documented the oil trade between ISIS, Russia and the Syrian regime.

What’s most fascinating about this crisis is that Putin and Erdogan are both autocrats known for refusing to back down. Both men arrest critical journalists, have destroyed the opposition, and have an aggressive foreign policy aimed at dominating their region. For a while they got along wonderfully, but all friendly appearances have now been dropped. Although they publicly declare that they’re dedicated to reducing tensions, they’re unwilling to compromise, take a step back, and defuse the situation.

If either Turkey or Russia was a real democracy, a solution would undoubtedly be found. After all, democracies are known for compromising; it’s in their DNA. Not so with autocracies; one man is in power and he’s used to getting his way. And when he doesn’t, he’s willing to take everyone else down with him.

Erdogan has requested a meeting with Putin. Two two rulers will meet November 30th in Paris. In the meantime, they’ll continue to blast each other and work to weaken the other nation’s proxies in Syria.