NATO and the United States’ expansion into the western peripheries of the former Warsaw Pact; Poland, Estonia, and Ukraine, between 2010 and 2014, and Russia’s reassertion of economic and political dominance in its “near abroad” have set the backdrop for the return to the global stalemate of the Cold War that we are now watching unfold in Syria. After two decades of continuing demilitarisation, the past half-decade has seen both Russia and the United States dramatically increase their defence budgets as their relations with one another have deteriorated. In this context the foggy yet clearly proxy nature of the recent conflict in Ukraine must be seen as the opening shot of a new stand-off between the US and Russia.

On Tuesday Turkey, a firm US ally in the region, shot down a Russian fighter jet and, in breach of the Geneva Convention, opened fire on the ejected pilots, killing one. Russia entered the war in Syria under massive pressure from the US, EU, and Great Britain on the, as yet unproven, premise that ISIS poses a real and significant threat to every party’s oil and resource interests in the Middle East. Entering very much on the side of Assad, Russia’s ally in the region, the Russian air force has consistently hit Syrian rebel and ISIS targets in norther Syria and along the Turkish border. Other than Russia’s inconvenient siding with the Syrian government, its position apropos ISIS should have meant that Russia and the US were (almost) on the same side.

Without either an attempt to contact the aircraft or fire a warning shot a US-supplied Turkish F-16 fired upon and brought down the Russian Su-24 fighter jet one kilometre inside Syrian airspace (it is yet to be proven that the Russian plane had even entered Turkish airspace). Turkish ground forces inside Syria proceeded to open fire on the parachuting pilots. Why, when both sides were supposed to be fighting the same enemy, did this happen? Well the Russians’ objective was to break ISIS’ oil supply lines in northern Syria, and Turkey was – believe it or not – trying to defend them. Syria is, after all, an oil war, and ISIS is funded by oil sales to Turkey and other countries – all of which guarantee supply to Europe and the United States. Yes, everyone (in the West) is buying oil from ISIS.

Washington was of course quick to distance itself from the event by calling the incident a Turkish overreaction, but the battle lines are clear; Russia and the United States are deeply involved in a proxy war against one another in the race to secure oil resources. It is worth noting at this point that Russia’s entry into the Syrian war has slowed Britain’s lust to kill some Arabs with airstrikes, because actual military engagement would bring UK forces face to face with a real superpower. It will be interesting, if not worrying, to see what happens next, but it is certainly time to stop pussyfooting about and start calling this what it is: a Cold War.

Jason Michael
Blog Author

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