News that Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Su-24 aircraft on November 24 brought a flurry of panic in the media and set the world on edge. Governments around the globe feared the worst: all-out war between Nato and Russia, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
The Russian plane was flying a bombing mission against militants in Syria on the country’s border with Turkey. Ankara claims the Russian jet violated Turkish airspace, and had been warned to stay out. Moscow vehemently denies these claims.
One thing is certain: Turkey, a Nato member state, shot down a Russian plane. The two countries are levelling the most grave accusations at each other; there are threats of economic retaliation.
It is important to remember, however, that this incident was not planned in advance. It was an accident with tragic consequences: one of the pilots died after militants shot him as he parachuted to the ground. The other pilot survived, but a Russian special operations soldier was killed in the operation to rescue him.
The overblown reactions show the sensitivity of the global geopolitical landscape at the moment. Two alpha males, Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia, lost face: Mr Erdogan allowed Turkish airspace to be violated, Mr Putin allowed one of his planes to be downed and one of his pilots to be killed.
The tensions will cool, and the recriminations fade. There will be few lasting geopolitical consequences. The positive message is that all parties involved – despite their bellicose rhetoric – want to avoid conflict.
There also might be the long-term advantage that such provocations will become less frequent, now that the dangerous results have become so apparent. Above the Baltic Sea this year, incidents where Russian and Nato aircraft have come precariously close to hostilities have occurred frequently.
So Tuesday’s incident may have served as an important lesson to both Nato and Russia. Fortunately, it occurred in a region with less geopolitical significance for the two sides than the Baltic. And in Syria, Russia, Nato (and Turkey specifically) have a common enemy: Islamic State. It must be remembered that the military build-up there is meant to combat this odious group, not create confrontation between Nato and Russia.