by Boaz Bismuth
This isn't just a gravely serious confrontation between Russia and Turkey, but a clash between Putin and Erdogan.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan always gets offended. We Israelis know this better than anyone. He goes on the attack, and then acts insulted -- this is the Turkish president's expertise. What he does not like, of course, is apologizing for his actions. You won't catch Erdogan in a moment of self-reproach. But if any world leader today knows how to manage crises and force his counterparts to bend, it is Vladimir Putin. What we have here isn't just a gravely serious confrontation between Russia and Turkey, but a heavyweight clash of egos between Putin and Erdogan, the likes of which we haven't seen for a very long time between two leaders. It appears one ego is already showing signs of cracking; and how unsurprising that it's not the Russian side.
Without actually saying the word "sorry" (rather that he is "really saddened" and "hopes this will not happen again"), which Putin demanded, the Turkish president, in front of the world, expressed regret for shooting the Russian Sukhoi-24 out of the sky last week along the border between Syria and Turkey.
We need to remember that Erdogan, since the downing of the plane, has twice asked to speak over the phone with Putin, who rejected both overtures. Now officials in Ankara are busy trying to arrange a meeting between the two leaders on the outskirts of the upcoming global climate summit that begins in Paris on Monday.
Erdogan is doing everything he can to lower the flames. He has even declared that Turkey needs Russia, and that Russia needs Turkey, and that "we cannot disengage." And how did Putin's ego respond? He immediately signed a decree imposing a series of economic sanctions on Turkey, including boycotting Turkish companies, limiting the number of Turkish laborers in Russia, curbing the import of Turkish goods and outlawing the sale of vacation packages on charter flights to Turkey. When discussing Russian tourism in Turkey, we are talking about upwards of 4.5 million visitors per year. In Turkey, everyone in the tourism industry knows that "being pleasant to the tourist" really means "being pleasant to the Russians."
It is Erdogan, in his desire to throw a wrench in the broad anti-Islamic State coalition being built by French President Francois Hollande and Putin, who forgot this touristy slogan. Ever since the Paris terrorist attacks Erdogan has been very displeased by U.S. President Barack Obama's rapprochement with Putin. Erdogan has been fixated on Turkey's interests in Syria and the Middle East, but lost sight along the way of his country's economic interests in Russia. Erdogan, however, mostly forgot not to mess with Putin, who can be unpredictable. He should ask the leaders of Ukraine, the European Union and even Obama.
Speaking of Obama, the U.S. president, since entering the Oval Office, has paid considerable attention to the matter of global warming. In his most recent State of the Union address, which he delivered last January, the president even professed that "there is no greater threat to the future of the world." Obama, after the nuclear deal with Iran, is seeking to leave behind a legacy in this area as well.
In Paris on Monday, we will all see just how right Obama was: Countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen are disintegrating; a terrorist organization like Islamic State is growing stronger and posing a menace to the world; Russia has reverted to its Soviet Union-era modus operandi, and although it is seizing control of pockets (in Ukraine and Syria) instead of entire blocs, the trend should be noted. And for the cherry on top, two of the more prominent leaders attending the global summit in Paris are engaged in a heavyweight battle of egos, which in all likelihood will affect the atmosphere and the issues on the agenda.
The world is indeed heating up at an alarming rate, Mr. President Obama. It's hard to say that your administration hasn't impacted on the climate in Paris this week.
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