NATO convened a meeting yesterday concerning two incidents involving Russian aircraft (SU-30 SM) briefly entering Turkey’s airspace over the week-end, ignoring warning calls, before Turkey’s military intercepted the Russian aircraft and sent it back over the Turkish-Syrian border.
Russia admitted to the incursion and said that it was a “navigational error” which comes as Russia is seeking to strengthen its military support for Syrian President Assad.
Turkey is a NATO member and former cold war foe of Russia.
Beginning last week, just a couple of days after Russian President Vladimir Putin had a friendly toast with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly Meeting, Russia initiated air assaults on selective targets across Syria that Russian leaders claimed were directed at ISIS but ended up hitting some CIA backed moderate insurgent groups across Syria that are opposed to Syrian President Assad.
President Obama has admitted that he doesn’t want to get involved in a proxy war with Russia in Syria.
But Vladimir Putin’s recent decision to step up its support of Syrian President Assad and bomb his enemies, including CIA backed insurgent groups operating in Syria, presents a new foreign policy challenge for the U.S. which aims to achieve a multi-faceted goal of containing the buildup of ISIS across Syria and Iraq while also creating a transition in Syria’s political establishment that ends President Assad’s tight control over southern Syria.
A respected American professor and former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq have both recently suggested that President Obama should call for a no-fly zone in Syria that protects Syrian civilians.
“We need to change the dynamics of the game. I think we could do it with a no-fly zone” said Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, during last Sunday’s Fox New Sunday.
“This would be a no-fly zone to stop Assad’s hideous barrel bombing of his own people” Crocker added.
Enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria where Russia’s air force has recently started flying air campaigns does have the potential to escalate the conflict between Russia and the United States.
Coalition partners such as Gulf Arab nations, Turkey, and Europeans would likely support the United States while Russia would rely on its base of support from Iran and Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.
Another advocate for enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria is Nicholas Burns, a former diplomat and Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, who believes that enforcing a no-fly zone is the best way to protect Syrian civilians and to limit the ability of the Syrian government to expand its power.
Yesterday on Bloomberg Markets Nicholas Burns said that the United States has a lot of experience establishing no-fly zones and said that they are needed in civilian neighborhoods around Syria where Syrian President Assad uses barrel bombs, resulting in refugee streams out of some Syrian cities.
“Frankly I think that the Administration has probably exaggerated the degree of difficulty here. We have a lot of experience at setting up no-fly zones. We’ve done it many times in Iraq in the past and to great effect in the past” Burns said.
“And there’s an obvious need for it. The Syrian government is using barrel bombs, firing at them indiscriminately into civilian neighborhoods to kill thousands of Syrian civilians, to terrorize them. They are creating the refugee stream by blasting into civilian neighborhoods, Aleppo for instance and near Damascus.” Burns added.