Russian ship fired at Turkish ship. Will cooler heads prevail?

The incident Sunday is the latest in a series of Turkish-Russian confrontations that have grown tenser since Turkey shot down a Russian jet that was allegedly in Turkish air space. 

Murad Sezer/Reuters
Russia's diesel-electric submarine Rostov-on-Don is escorted by a Turkish Navy Coast Guard boat as it sets sail in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Black Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday.

A Russian warship anchored in the Aegean Sea fired warning shots at a Turkish fishing vessel on Sunday, after, it claimed, sending several warnings that did not deter the ship from coming within 600 meters of the Smetlivy destroyer.

The Turkish ship then changed course, averting a collision. 

The Russian Defense Ministry summoned Turkey's military attaché in Moscow to communicate its "deep concerns" about Turkish "provocations," and warned about "the potentially disastrous consequences from Ankara's reckless actions towards Russia's military contingent fighting against international terrorism in Syria," according to the Ministry's statement. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said he would issue a statement later, but emphasized, "We want to solve the tension with dialogue." 

The incident comes on the heels of another complaint earlier this month, when Turkey scolded the Russian ambassador after photos surfaced of what appeared to be a Russian serviceman posing with a rocket launcher as his vessel sailed through Turkish waters. That action would violate the Montreux Convention agreements regulating naval activity in the Bosphorus Straits and Dardanelles Straits, accusations Russia has denied. 

The naval incidents may prolong heightened tensions between Russia and Turkey, which have soured over the two nations' differing goals in Syria, but escalated sharply in November when Turkish forces shot down a two-passenger Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border, charging that it was repeatedly violating Turkish air space. Both ejected; the pilot was killed by Syrian rebels, and a Russian naval infantryman was killed in during the rescue of the fighter's weapons systems officer.

Putin retaliated with a series of economic sanctions, projected to cost Turkey more than $9 billion in the coming year, and froze plans for a Gazprom gas pipeline in the Black Sea.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told politicians that he had not ruled out counter-sanctions, but hoped "the crisis with Russia will be overcome" without retaliatory measures, although he cautioned that "we will never accept being dictated to."

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called on both countries to de-escalate. "All those who are engaged in military activities in Syria, especially air campaigns, need to maximize operational measures to avoid unintended consequences," his spokesman told the media the day of the jet incident. 

President Obama has also asked the two nations to peacefully discuss how to avoid future run-ins, calling on both to focus on their Syria campaigns against ISIS

But Turkey has not held back from sharply criticizing Russia's bombing campaign there, where, according to a Reuters analysis, more than 80 percent of Russian attacks have bombed non-ISIS targets. The Kremlin supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey asserts that Dr. Assad must step down to ensure peace in Syria.

In the border region where the Russian jet strayed into Turkish air space, for example, Turkey claims there is no ISIS activity: only moderate Turkmen rebels opposing both Assad and ISIS. Earlier this week, Dr. Davutoğlu accused Russia of an ethnic cleansing campaign against Turkmen communities in Syria. 

The two countries' aims in the Middle East have been further complicated by Turkey's decision to send 100 troops to a military base near Mosul, Iraq, which Iraqi, Iranian, and Russian politicians called a violation of sovereignty. 

"It looks like Turkey is setting up cards for a new game by changing the space of its crisis with Russia," Turkish military adviser Metin Gürcan told Business Insider, pointing to Turkey's aim to counter the weight of a Russian-Iraqi-Iranian network of power.

Turkey's will – or ability – to challenge that influence "is a new thing for Russia, so we'll see how Moscow responds – and how the US manages the emergence of the new power center Turkey is seemingly trying to create," Mr. Gürcan said. "But at the end of the day, the winner is ISIS."

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