Putin Stirs the Pot in Turkey and Iraq
Policy + Politics

Putin Stirs the Pot in Turkey and Iraq

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Moscow is keeping up its campaign of retaliation against Turkey.

On Sunday, Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador over a possible military provocation the day before. Turkey claims that a Russian soldier stood with a rocket launcher on his shoulder on the deck of the landing ship Caesar Kunikov as it passed through Istanbul on the Bosporus. Published photos seem to back the claim.

The incident is the latest in a campaign by Russian President Vladimir Putin to punish Turkey for downing a warplane last month near the country’s border with Syria. Turkish and U.S. officials say the jet had violated Turkish airspace and had been warned repeatedly to leave; Moscow says the aircraft received no warning and that Ankara planned the provocation.

Related: Putin: Turkey Buys Oil from ISIS, and Erdogan Knows All About It

Russia has imposed a variety of economic sanctions on Turkey, and the feud has grown increasingly personal. Last week Putin accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family of profiting from the sale of oil obtained from ISIS on the black market.

The events amount to Russia “basically trying to provoke the Turks into doing something rash,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In Iraq, Turkish troops have been present for a while now but the picture has grown more complicated since Baghdad set up an intelligence sharing unit with Russia, Syria and Iran. This weekend the Iraqi government rebuked Turkey for sending hundreds of troops and military equipment near the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul. Turkish officials countered that the deployment was part of a standing rotation to train Kurdish fighters. Iraq has threatened to take the issue up with the United Nations, arguing its sovereignty has been impinged.

Related: Putin’s New Missiles Dial Up the Tension with Turkey

Cagaptay said Russia and Iran, whose militaries are working together in Syria, in all likelihood told Iraqi officials to issue the warning to Turkey as a way to embarrass the country, though he predicted the matter wouldn’t reach the United Nations.

He credited Ankara for “playing it cool” in the face of the Kremlin’s prodding, especially on the bomber incident, which has become more of a NATO-Russia affair, with officials from the alliance coming to Turkey’s defense.

Related: Putin Pushes Back: How Russia Is Responding to Turkey’s Downing of Fighter Jet

However, Cagaptay predicted, Putin is going to keep trying to find a way to “force a full apology” for the jet downing or “at least humiliate Turkey so he can say ‘This is what happens when you oppose Russia.’”

He added that while Ankara is going to find such counterattacks in “the most unexpected places,” Russia can only go so far, give the size of Turkey’s military and its ties to the West.

“Putin can only do so much, but he’ll continue to do what he can to make headaches” for the Turks, according to Cagaptay.