By Mike Whitney
“You can pay me now or pay me later” is an American expression that means that you can either deal with a particular problem immediately at minimal expense or wait until the problem gets really bad and the costs go through the roof. This is the message that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been trying to get across to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for more than a week. In fact, the whole smear campaign connecting Erdogan to the ISIS oil smuggling racket was designed to shame Erdogan into “doing the right thing” and apologizing for the downing of its Su-24 warplane. What Putin wants, is quite simple. He wants Erdogan to admit that what he did was wrong and take the necessary steps to make amends.
What Putin is doing is no different than what any parent would do if their son was throwing sand in the face of some other child on the playground He would take little Johnny by the arm, tell him to stop what he was doing, and make him apologize to the person he hurt. This basic learning experience provides the moral foundation for broader human interaction. If people are allowed to simply run roughshod over others– even to the point where they are willing to kill them to achieve their political objectives– then none of us are ever going to be safe. So Erdogan needs to face the music, apologize, and take his medicine like a man.
But, of course, an apology doesn’t change the fact that a man is dead. And not only a man, but a Russian soldier. That means something. That puts the onus on Putin to seek justice for a hero who died while fighting for his country. Americans don’t understand this because America is always at war. In fact, American history is one long 240-year carnage-generating bloodbath from Bunker Hill to Baghdad, from Wounded Knee to Haditha. As a result, America has to conceal its casualties from public view to the extent that even photographing the flag-draped coffins delivered to Dover Airbase has been banned. That’s how Sparta prevents the people from seeing the enormous costs of its so called interventions.
Russia is different. Russians don’t like war, and war is not a permanent feature in Russian life. So when a pilot is killed in action, the entire country grieves which is exactly what happened when the remains of Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov were returned from Syria to Moscow. It was a day of national mourning.
Now the ball is in Putin’s court. Now it is incumbent on him, as a responsible and moral leader, to seek justice for Peshkov, which means that, first of all, he must persuade Erdogan must acknowledge his mistake and apologize. Secondly, there has to be some tangible effort to make amends. It’s Putin’s responsibility to demand accountability, not revenge. And that’s what he’s doing. Putin has already stated in blunt terms that he is NOT going to let this thing slide. There will be payback, that much is certain.
In order to understand how strongly Putin feels about the matter and, also, how strongly he feels about Russia’s mission in Syria, here’s an excerpt from the State of the State speech he gave just this week:
“Russia has demonstrated immense responsibility and leadership in the fight against terrorism. Russian people have supported these resolute actions. The firm stance taken by our people stems from a thorough understanding of the absolute danger of terrorism, from patriotism, high moral qualities and their firm belief that we must defend our national interests, history, traditions and values.
The international community should have learned from the past lessons. The historical parallels in this case are undeniable. Unwillingness to join forces against Nazism in the 20th century cost us millions of lives in the bloodiest world war in human history.
Today we have again come face to face with a destructive and barbarous ideology, and we must not allow these modern-day dark forces to attain their goals.” (Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, St George Hall, Moscow)
Does that sound like a man who is waffling about his commitment in Syria? Does that sound like a man who has any reservations at all about the moral righteousness of his cause?
Again, Russia is not America. The war on terror is not a scam to enhance presidential powers, to curtail civil liberties, to perpetuate America’s wars around the planet, and to reduce the public to quivering, malleable, propagandized imbeciles wailing for the protection of the all-powerful state. Russia’s approach to terrorism is entirely different. It’s constructive and, more important, it’s rational. Putin doesn’t divide terrorists into good terrorists and bad terrorists, moderate terrorist’s and radical terrorists. If they’re terrorists, they’re terrorists regardless of their pedigree and regardless of whether they serve the geopolitical objectives the state or not. They’re enemy and they’re going to be killed. End of story. Here’s how Putin summed it up:
“The terrorists must not be given refuge anywhere. There must be no double standards. No contacts with terrorist organizations. No attempts to use them for self-seeking goals. No criminal business with terrorists.
We know who are stuffing pockets in Turkey and letting terrorists prosper from the sale of oil they stole in Syria. The terrorists are using these receipts to recruit mercenaries, buy weapons and plan inhuman terrorist attacks against Russian citizens and against people in France, Lebanon, Mali and other states. We remember that the militants who operated in the North Caucasus in the 1990s and 2000s found refuge and received moral and material assistance in Turkey. We still find them there.” (Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, St George Hall, Moscow)
So Putin has known all along that Erdogan’s group of fanatical Islamic zealots were overseeing a vast criminal enterprise, but he kept his mouth shut.
Well, because Putin is discreet. He doesn’t believe that publicly humiliating other world leaders is a positive way to conduct business. Keep in mind, that even though the Russian military has produced tons of evidence connecting Turkey to the illicit sale of stolen oil produced by ISIS, they haven’t once mentioned that Israel has been on the receiving end of many of these transactions. In other words, Putin doesn’t blow the whistle on people unless they force him to do so. Erdogan forced him to do so. Erdogan crossed the line. Erdogan “stabbed him in the back.” Just listen:
“The Turkish people are kind, hardworking and talented. We have many good and reliable friends in Turkey. Allow me to emphasize that they should know that we do not equate them with the certain part of the current ruling establishment that is directly responsible for the deaths of our servicemen in Syria.
We will never forget their collusion with terrorists. We have always deemed betrayal the worst and most shameful thing to do, and that will never change. I would like them to remember this – those in Turkey who shot our pilots in the back, those hypocrites who tried to justify their actions and cover up for terrorists.” (“Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Annual Presidential Address”)
Erdogan is going to pay for what he did, but that doesn’t mean that Putin is going to be irrational about it. The man is not a loose cannon and, besides, this isn’t about revenge, it’s about justice for Peshkov. Here’s Putin again:
“Our actions will always be guided primarily by responsibility – to ourselves, to our country, to our people. We are not going to rattle the sabre. But, if someone thinks they can commit a heinous war crime, kill our people and get away with it, suffering nothing but a ban on tomato imports, or a few restrictions in construction or other industries, they’re delusional. We’ll remind them of what they did, more than once. They’ll regret it. We know what to do.” (“Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Annual Presidential Address”)
Isn’t this how leaders are supposed to behave? Shouldn’t we expect that our leaders place the security of their people and military personnel above everything else? Shouldn’t that be their highest priority?
Of course, it should be. It goes without saying. What Putin is saying is that no one is going to kill a Russian citizen without being held accountable. Period. You have to admire that.
Now compare Putin’s reaction to the killing of Peshkov to 9-11 where the US government prevented an official investigation for more than a year and then packed the investigative committee with cronies, sycophants and ideologues who could be trusted to spin a sanitized version of events that only a moron would believe. The whole manner in which the investigation was conducted tells us everything we need to know about the contempt the USG has for American people, their safety and security don’t make a damn bit of difference to the people in Washington. It’s a big joke.
Things are different in Russia, at least under Putin they are. And this explains why Putin’s public approval ratings are in the stratosphere, well above 80 percent even though the economy is still in the dumps.
But how can that be when all the brainiacs in the western media said his numbers would tank for standing up to the US in Ukraine?
It’s because the Russian people know he’s a straightshooter who puts the interests of his people above his own. It’s also because they understand that they are in a generation-long struggle with the US to maintain their sovereign independence and to create a multipolar world where one center of power does not dictate to others what they can and can’t do. They seem to grasp that the war on terror is really a war for global domination. They “get it”. Here’s Putin again:
“Terrorism is a growing threat today. The Afghanistan problem has not been resolved. The situation there is alarming and gives us no optimism, while some of the yet recently stable and rather well-doing countries in the Middle East and North Africa – Iraq, Libya and Syria – have now plunged into chaos and anarchy that pose a threat to the whole world.
We all know why that happened. We know who decided to oust the unwanted regimes and brutally impose their own rules. Where has this led them? They stirred up trouble, destroyed the country’s statehood, set people against each other, and then “washed their hands”, as we say in Russia, thus opening the way to radical activists, extremists and terrorists.” (“Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Annual Presidential Address”)
You see, this isn’t just about Turkey or Erdogan or even the downing of the Su-24. This is a full-blown war between Russia and the Terrorist States of America, the petri dish from whence this lethal virus has emerged and spread from North Africa, across the Middle East and deep into Central Asia. Putin, at great risk to himself and his country, has reluctantly taken on the task of fighting this noxious menace before it infects the entire world, and now others are following his lead.
Putin again: “The militants in Syria pose a particularly high threat for Russia. Many of them are citizens of Russia and the CIS countries. They get money and weapons and build up their strength. If they get sufficiently strong to win there, they will return to their home countries to sow fear and hatred, to blow up, kill and torture people. We must fight and eliminate them there, away from home.”
This isn’t a war Putin wants to fight. He was perfectly content selling gas and oil to the Europeans; raking in tons of money, rebuilding his country, beefing up Russian GDP, and watching while standards of living steadily improved. But what choice did he have? Washington decided that Putin’s dream of a free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok –with oil and gas denominated in euros instead of the almighty dollar– was a threat to US dominance so they decided to put an end to it. They toppled the Moscow-friendly government in Ukraine and replaced it with a US-backed stooge, tried to torpedo Russia’s gas trade with the EU, and then spread the war to Syria by recruiting, arming, training, and funding fanatical mercenaries whose assignment was to topple Bashar al Assad and leave the state in Dresden-type ruination. Isn’t that Washington’s basic blueprint for success, destroy everything that can’t be used to increase its own stranglehold on power?
This is what makes Erdogan’s betrayal so bitter; it’s because Erdogan knows what Putin is doing in Syria. He’s not trying to recreate the Russian Empire. That’s baloney. He’s involved in an existential struggle for Russia’s survival. Erdogan knows that but, even so, he has thus aligned himself with Washington and entrusted his country’s future to an organization that is nothing more than a Mafia protection racket, NATO. Is it any wonder why Putin is pissed?
Here’s what needs to happen now: Erdogan needs to see that his dependence on the US and NATO is going to come at a very high cost for himself and his country, after all, Washington knows that they have Erdogan over a barrel and they will certainly exploit that in every way possible. For one thing, Erdogan will be expected to take orders from Washington just like all the other US puppets. He’s not going to like that.
Second, Turkey is not going to be the EU’s gas hub now that Putin has put the kibosh on Turkstream. The hostility between Turkey and Russia will likely impact Iran’s decision to use Turkey as a transit site for Iranian gas too. In other words, by refusing to apologize, Erdogan has compromised not only its country’s independence, but damaged its long-term economic prospects that are part-and-parcel of its advantageous strategic location which puts Turkey at the epicenter of the world, the de facto landbridge between Europe and Asia. Erdogan has sacrificed all that to preserve his felonious ISIS oil smuggling operation and to continue to support his loser-terrorist buddies that are decimating Syria.
All this could be reversed with a simple apology and by meeting Putin’s reasonable demands for making amends.
And what would Putin’s demands be?
Most likely, Putin would insist that Erdogan stop all support for anti-regime forces now operating in Syria. That’s number one.
Number two: Erdogan would be asked to actively and sincerely encourage leaders of the anti-regime militias to accept the terms of an immediate ceasefire and to participate in negotiations for a political settlement to the four and a half year-long war.
Putin has never lost sight of his primary goals which are to prevent regime change, to maintain the sovereign integrity of the state, and to kill or capture all terrorists operating in Syria. If Erdogan agreed to these terms, Putin will have achieved all of his objectives; displaced Syrians will be able to return home, life will gradually return to normal, and Peshkov will have gotten the justice he deserves.