Putin’s Campaign Against Turkey Hits the High Seas
Policy + Politics

Putin’s Campaign Against Turkey Hits the High Seas

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

The nearly month-long feud between Russia and Turkey reached a new battlefield over the weekend: the sea.

A Russian warship fired warning shots at a Turkish fishing boat in the Aegean Sea, ostensibly to avoid a possible collision. The Russian Defense Ministry said the boat came within 1,600 feet of the Smetlivy destroyer, one of the ships bolstering the Kremlin’s military foray into Syria meant to prop up the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

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Moscow summoned a Turkish military attaché over the incident, telling the official of “potentially disastrous consequences from Ankara’s reckless actions toward Russia’s military continent fighting against international terrorism in Syria,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“We are not in favor of tension," Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying in response. "We have always been in favor of overcoming tensions through dialogue rather than conflict.”

The confrontation on the waves is the latest evidence that tensions between Ankara and Moscow remain high almost a month after the Turkish air force shot down a Russian fighter jet. Turkey claimed the aircraft had entered its airspace and refused to change course; Russian President Vladimir Putin called the downing a “planned provocation.”

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The relationship between the two capitals has only deteriorated since, with Russia unleashing a package of economic sanctions against Turkey, including restrictions on imports and travel. It also sent a warship through the Bosphorus in Istanbul; pictures revealed a solider on the ship’s deck, holding a rocket launcher.

Last week a top Turkish official accused Moscow of conducting “ethnic cleansing” in northern Syria, while Putin pointedly reminded the world that the Kremlin might use nuclear weapons in Syria if necessary.

The series of dust-ups is sure to be a topic of conversation on Tuesday when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Moscow for meetings with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. President Obama and other senior administration officials have chastised Russia for its intervention in Syria, charging Moscow with lying when it says its forces are in the country to fight ISIS.

Related: ISIS Is Winning the Recruitment War as Foreign Fighters Flow into Syria

While relations between Turkey and Russia have turned frosty in the last month, the U.S.-Russia relationship has been downright frigid for almost two years, ever since Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and began supporting separatist rebels in the eastern part of the country.

It’s unclear what, if any, impact Tuesday’s sessions will have on relations going forward, but they at least could give the two nations a chance to emphasize areas where they are still cooperating, like the Iran nuclear deal.