On Dec. 20, two Turkish air force A400M transport aircraft that had been stranded at an airfield just outside of Kyiv for 299 days took off and returned home. The planes, believed to have been used to shuttle Turkish drones and other weapons to Ukraine, had been grounded by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. The airspace between Ukraine and Turkey since has remained contested by Russia and too dangerous to risk the return journey.
What happened just a few days before Christmas?
According to Western diplomatic sources, Moscow gave Ankara assurances its cargo planes would not be targeted by Russian jets or missiles on their voyage home. The Kremlin, in other words, offered safe passage to a NATO member that, less than a year ago, was delivering unmanned aircraft for future use against the Russian army.
As strange episodes go, few could better encapsulate the complex relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It’s a relationship that at times seems bound by mutual interests and shared hostility toward the United States and Europe, and, at other times, by a quiet geopolitical antagonism between the two that veers into proxy warfare if not a lukewarm state of active conflict. [Continue reading…]