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Russia limits damage following air strike on Turkish troops

The Russians are going into overdrive to contain the diplomatic damage from the Russian air strike that killed three Turkish soldiers and wounded eleven others near Al-Bab in Syria on Thursday.

Russian President Putin immediately telephoned Turkish President Erdogan to offer his condolences, and the Russian and Turkish Chiefs of General Staff have also spoken to each other.  Here is the Kremlin’s summary of President Putin’s conversation with President Erdogan

The two presidents continued their exchange of views on key aspects of the Syrian crisis in the context of the joint fight against international terrorism. Mr Putin expressed his condolences over the tragic events that led to the deaths of several Turkish soldiers near Al-Bab. Both leaders agreed to step up their military coordination during operations in Syria against ISIS and other extremist organisations.

Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan discussed implementation of the results of the International Meeting on Syria in Astana, which took place with Russia, Turkey and Iran acting as mediators. Both leaders affirmed their readiness to continue active efforts to advance the Astana and Geneva processes on resolving the Syrian conflict.

Note that Putin’s proffered condolences stops well short of an apology.

This rapid Russian response is in contrast to the way Turkey initially responded to the Turkish shooting down of a Russian SU24 fighter bomber near the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015, and to the way the US has responded to the US air strike on Syrian troops near Deir Ezzor in September of last year.

In the case of the SU24 shoot down the Turks initially tried to brazen things out, claiming falsely that the shoot-down was the Russians’ fault because the SU24 was supposedly shot down after crossing the Turkish border.  In the case of the US air strike on Deir Ezzor in September, the US admitted a mistake (though many doubt this was really the case) but has never expressed real regret or offered anything that remotely comes close to an apology.

The result of the Turkish and US response to their respective “mistakes” was to weaken seriously their positions in Syria.  The Russians – undoubtedly with these examples in mind – are determined not to put themselves in the same position.

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