Russia-Turkey spat threatens to draw NATO into Syrian conflict

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Turkey and Russia risk setting off an “accidental war” which threatens to bring NATO into the equation, analysts say.

“Both Russia and Turkey are looking to position for strategic advantage,” Tim Ash, head of emerging-market strategy at Nomura in London, said on Feb. 15. “The risk is of an actual Russo-Turkish military clash, which would then threaten to draw in NATO.”

Turkish tanks near the Syrian border.
Turkish tanks near the Syrian border.

While Turkey is seen as unlikely to launch a ground incursion into Syria that would put its troops under Russian fire, the risk of an “accidental” clash is “still real,” said Michael Gunter, author of several books on the Kurds and a professor of political science at Tennessee Tech University.

If Turkey takes further action to counter the Kurds and Russia, he said, “things could quickly escalate into a greater confrontation which nobody in their correct mind would want.”

Russia has been carrying out military exercises in the Black Sea area that are “a signal to Turkey not to stage a provocation,” according to Igor Korotchenko, director of the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade in Moscow.

“We have enough forces to bring (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan back to his senses if Turkey forces us to act militarily,” Korotchenko said.

Turkey has signaled it would join a ground operation with U.S.-led coalition allies to end the Syrian war.

Tensions between Russia and NATO member Turkey boiled over in November when Turkish F-15s shot down a Russian fighter jet.