The Russian government seems to be overreacting to the Su–24 crisis, threatening wide-scale economic sanctions against Turkey that are certain to hurt Russian consumers. (Bombing Voronezh in response, again.) Is this Putin taking personal offense – an ego contest between the two authoritarians, Putin and Erdogan?
Putin has complained that Ankara did not contact him first thing after shooting down the Russian plane, running for cover to its NATO partners instead. Erdogan replied that he tried calling Putin but could not contact him, an amusingly Putinesque response.
At the other end of the hypothesis range, the economic sanctions drawn up by the Russian cabinet in just two days may have been prepared well in advance, a strategic move waiting to be made when a suitable pretext arrives.
If the latter, another round of “import substitution,” that is more expensive food and clothes for Russian consumers, is in the offing. The way Russian authorities have behaved towards Turkish citizens (arresting three dozen Turkish businessmen at a conference in Krasnodar) and Turkish businesses (finding germs in tomatoes and poison in detergent) is the essence of arbitrariness (proizvol) – the opposite of rule of law – the chronic scourge of the Russian private sector.
Anything good to come out of this? Well yes – if it’s a strategy, not a hissy fit – cooperation with Ukraine, after all. Gazprom’s Turk Stream project has gone the way of South Stream: dead and buried. It was apparently intended in part to reroute the gas now flowing to Turkey through Ukraine, and in part to fill growing Turkish demand over the next 10-15 years. This leaves Russia stuck with gas transit through Ukraine, even after Nord Stream’s capacity is doubled.