A dilemma is goring my friend Vlad with its horns. The Turks slapped him in the face (or stabbed him in the back, as he put it) by shooting down his bomber, so what’s he going to do about it?
On the one hand, the temptation to do something cataclysmic is strong. No one disses Vlad and gets away with it.
It’s not about losing a plane. It’s about losing face. When Vlad was growing up as a ‘common street thug’, by his frank self-description, losing face meant losing respect.
That was tantamount to dying: not only would members of rival gangs play fast and loose but, more important, even one’s mates would withdraw their protection. The bully would get bullied.
On the other hand, however, the Turks had the foresight to join Nato, which is to say the West. The last time they looked westwards for help against Russia, they won the Crimean War in spite of being outgunned, or rather the West won it for them, and Vlad is a keen student of Russia’s imperial past.
Of course there’s every chance Nato would back off, like those intelligentsia wimps Vlad used to harass in his youth, brandishing a length of bicycle chain. But there’s a risk: Nato may be a wimp, but it has a length of chain of its own. Sufficiently provoked, it may just swing it.
No, Turkey is too difficult a target. The Russian people are an easier one, and they don’t seem to mind being a target.
So Vlad declared that the same Turkish food imports that a week ago met every exacting health standard no longer do so. In other words, Russians are going to lose Turkish tomatoes, fruit and meats the same way they’ve already lost French Camembert, Italian Parmesan and Spanish hams – not to mention more basic things.
Meanwhile Vlad expelled a few Turkish businessmen whose visas miraculously got out of order overnight, severed all military contacts between the two countries and threatened to withdraw billions’ worth of business from the dastardly Turks.
In passing he accused Erdogan of being a secret member of ISIS and acting as a fence for its oil, while Turkey’s president defied diplomatic protocol by calling Putin a ‘slanderer’ in reply.
Vlad responded by moving more tanks into the area, along with AA missiles capable of downing a Turkish airliner 250 miles away, should the spirit so move Vlad.
Britain wouldn’t take it lying down either. Following yesterday’s preliminary head-count in Parliament, the RAF will start bombing Syria any minute now, which probably means Londoners should brace themselves for the same treatment that Parisians received, or worse.
I do mean bombing Syria, not ISIS, for it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. Nato, including Turkey, clearly can’t do so, while the Russians don’t care one way or the other.
Turkey downed that Russian plane mainly because the Russians are pounding Turkmen villages. The Turkmen, who are Sunnis, oppose Assad, who’s a Shiite, and hate the Kurds who are a burr under Turkey’s blanket, which makes Turkmen Turkey’s friends, not just ethnic brothers.
The Russians are strafing the Turkmen for being ambivalent about ISIS, who are Sunnis too and therefore hate Assad, whom the Turkmen also detest but the Russians quite like. Then of course there are the anti-Assad forces who are not ISIS, so the Russians bomb them too, along with ISIS, the Turkmen and everything that moves, except Assad.
We’re against Assad because he fails the democracy test, which ISIS also fails, along with everyone else in the region except Israel. That’s why we’re probably going to bomb the pro-Assad soldiers, some of whom are, like us, fighting ISIS and some cross-pollinate with them. No plans to bomb Israel have so far been revealed, and nor do the Saudis need to worry yet, even though they aren’t democratic either.
Just two years ago Dave ‘Bomber’ Cameron hated Assad so much that he was prepared to back ISIS, as it then wasn’t yet known. Now he still hates Assad, for not being a democrat, but he also hates ISIS, which means that logically he should endorse carpet-bombing all of Syria since neither side to the conflict is any good.
In practice though, he won’t, pretending that British bombs will unerringly find appropriate targets all on their own – and that he actually knows what the appropriate targets are.
The Russians meanwhile will bomb everyone except Assad and his forces, proceeding on the philosophy first enunciated during the Albigensian Crusade: kill them all, God will claim his own. Amazing how little things change over 800 years.
God only knows where it’ll all end, whether Vlad will have Turkey for proverbial breakfast, or whether he’ll choke on the Middle East the same way his predecessors choked on Afghanistan.
But even a mere mortal can realise how fatuous the West’s Middle Eastern policy has been over the last 12 years. If nothing else, it has drawn Putin in, the jet-black cat among the pigeons.
To extend the prandial analogy, Putin is the devil we’re supping with. And no long spoon is anywhere to be seen.