On Saturday, the Russian warship Caesar Kunikov passed through the Bosphorus Strait.
On deck, a soldier could be seen wielding a rocket launcher:
“For a Russian soldier to display a rocket launcher or something similar while passing on a Russian warship is a provocation,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, adding that if Turkey “perceives a threat” Ankara “will give the necessary response.”
It’s not clear what the “necessary response” is to the brandishing of a shoulder surface-to-air missile on the deck of a ship, but for those who might have missed it, the Bosphorus is one of Turkey’s only trump cards when it comes to countering the Russians who at this point seem determined to permanently impair Ankara’s international reputation by implicating Erdogan in Islamic State’s lucrative cross-border oil trade.
Closing the strait would mean cutting one of Moscow’s key supply routes to Latakia, which would in turn force The Kremlin to either take a longer sea route or resupply the base by air. As we noted on Sunday, blocking the Bosphorus would technically be illegal, but that wouldn’t likely stop Erdogan if he became inclined to limit passage.
Well, in what has become a petty back-and-forth game of mutual escalation, Turkey now says Russia violated the Montreaux Treaty by placing a soldier with a shouldered rocket launcher on the deck of a warship as it passed through the strait.
It was “a clear provocation” Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim says. Turkey “is capable of taking necessary precautions if threatening or provocative behavior continues,” he added.
Yes, "threatening or proocative behavior” much like sending 150 ground troops and two dozen tanks into a sovereign country with no invite - which, you’re reminded is exactly what Turkey did in Iraq on Friday.
In any event, Turkey seems to be looking for excuses here. Sure, placing a serviceman on deck with a shouldered surface-to-air missile isn’t exactly a friendly display, but Ankara did just shoot down a Russian fighter jet, so it’s not as if Russia has nothing to fear from the Turks.
Between Turkish aggression and the fact that the Bosphorus has emerged as a key issue in the ongoing spat makes it not at all surprising that Moscow would resort to a bit of chest beating while passing through the strait.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government says US warplanes attacked SAA positions for the first time since the conflict began, prompting a swift response from Damascus (or from wherever the government is conducting its business these days).
The strike allegedly took place in Paris mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud’s old fiefdom of Deir ez Zor. As RT reports, “the coalition jets fired nine missiles at an army camp” killing three and wounding a dozen. “Syria strongly condemns the act of aggression by the US-led coalition that contradicts the UN Charter on goals and principles. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent letters to the UN Secretary General and the UN Security Council.”
"This hampers efforts to combat terrorism and proves once again that this coalition lacks seriousness and credibility to effectively fight terrorism," Syria's letter to the United Nations says.
Hilariously, Washington says it has no idea what Syria is talking about: “We’ve seen those Syrian reports but we did not conduct any strikes in that part of Deir ez Zor yesterday. So we see no evidence,” coalition spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said. This is the same Steve Warren who said it's "beyond ridiculous" to suggest that the US is tacitly supporting ISIS. Similarly, Lt. Col. Kristi Beckman, director of public affairs at the Combined Air Operations Center at al-Udeid air base in Qatar, told AP that although he's "aware" of the incident, he doesn't "have any indication that the strikes killed Syrian soldiers."
Of course somebody bombed the SAA position and it damn sure wasn't the Russians, and since ISIS doesn't have an air force, there's really only one explanation as to whose planes were involved. Whether or not the strike was intentional or whether the US thought they were bombing ISIS (which controls the area) is an open question.
So, two questions emerge: 1) will Turkey use the rocket launcher "incident" as an excuse to limit passage in the Bosphorus, and 2) was the coalition strike on Syrian troops intentional, and if so, will "accidents" like this become par for the course in eastern Syria?