Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Private Sector, Turkey, and the Russia Factor

Originally Published on 5 December 2015

On 24 November, a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkish fighter jets along the Turkish-Syrian border, exasperating tensions between Russia and Turkey. Turkish officials claim the plane had failed to respond to multiple warnings, while Russia claims their plane never crossed the Turkish border. In retaliation, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of "serious consequences" and subsequently called for economic sanction on Turkey. Turkish airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) militants in Syria further complicate the security situation along the southeastern border. Though Russian sanctions add pressure to the already difficult situation, Russian military action against Turkey remains highly unlikely.

Immediately following the 24 November incident, Russia increased its air defense network on both land and sea in northwest Syria. The movement of advanced air defense assets provide Russia with a strategic deterrent to anyone threatening Russian aircraft. However, President Putin clarified in a speech on 4 December that he does not plan "engage in military saber-rattling [with Turkey]" and reiterated Russia's commitment to fighting terrorism. Additionally, Turkey's status as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remains a large deterrent for any Russian military spillover into Turkey. As a member, Turkey would be able to call for military assistance from other members such as the US, UK, and France in the event of a Russian attack. On 28 November, Russia released a list of economic sanctions against Turkey. The sanctions included a halt on certain agricultural imports from Turkey, as well as a ban on chartered flights between both countries. Additionally, the sanctions prohibited Russian employers from hiring Turkish nationals starting in 2016 unless they were employed before 31 December 2015. Russia cancelled visa-free travel for Turkish citizens starting 1 January 2016. Furthermore, Russia announced on 3 December that it was suspending all meetings with Turkey for the creation of the $16 billion Turkish Stream gas pipeline. Turkey is Russia's second largest importer of gas.

While Russian sanctions against Turkey further complicate regional dynamics, the impact to many businesses will likely be limited to travel disruptions caused by new visa requirements and possible flight traffic modifications. Russian military action spilling over into Turkey remains highly unlikely due to Turkey's NATO membership. Meanwhile, sporadic acts of violence, either by IS or PKK militants, remain more likely due to ongoing Turkish air strikes against militant groups in Syria. Businesses operating in southern Turkey are unlikely to be targeted directly by violence in the region.

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