Putin’s stance on the Syrian crisis has further strained Russia’s already tense relationship with its Western counterparts.
Earlier this month, Russia started launching airstrikes in Syria. A spokesperson from Russia’s embassy in Washington, D.C. has reiterated Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s assertion that “the airstrikes are targeted at ISIL [Islamic State], Nusra, and other terrorist groups.” Western officials, however, have claimed that the bombing campaign is in fact targeting pro-western rebels. Over the past two weeks, these strikes have hit CIA-sponsored rebels in Syria. According to U.S. officials, the targeting of these specific groups suggests that the true goal behind the attacks is the weakening of America’s allies.
NATO officials have also protested what they allege to be the deliberate violation of Turkey’s airspace by Russia’s air force. In response to this provocation against Turkey, which has been a NATO member since 1952, and with an eye towards emphasizing the alliance’s commitment to collective defense, NATO has announced its intent to bolster its forces in the Baltic countries, Poland, and Ukraine. Despite NATO’s relatively cautious stance, continued Russian operations may force the alliance to take additional steps aimed at ensuring the integrity of Turkey’s borders and sovereign airspace. If Russian incursions into Turkish airspace continue, NATO will have to decide how to respond to fulfill its collective defense obligations under Article 5.