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Russia, NATO at the Brink of War - Putin's JFK Moment

Turkey's provocative action puts Russia one step away from full-scale war with NATO

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

With today's shoot-down of a Russian SU-24 by a Turkish F-16, the conflict in Syria has entered a very dangerous escalation.

Turkey is a member of the NATO alliance. Let us therefore not mince words: A NATO state has just attacked Russia. Perhaps not since the downing of a an American U-2 over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, has the world been so close to a third world war. 

At that time, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as most of John F. Kennedy's cabinet supported retaliatory bombing and invasion of Cuba. Had such taken place, it would have compelled Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev to seize West Berlin. That in turn would have led to further retaliation by NATO. Within a very short time full-scale war, including nuclear exchange, could have taken place.

Fortunately, Kennedy and his closest circle of advisors were able to foresee the progression of events, resist the warhawks, establish direct communication with Khruschev and find a negotiated settlement to the crisis. Had he reacted rashly or buckled under the pressure for war, it is doubtful the world would exist today.

Like Kennedy, Putin must now display the ultimate statesmanship
Like Kennedy, Putin must now display the ultimate statesmanship

Now Putin faces his "Kennedy moment." Will he take the obvious course - one might say even the justifiable course - and bomb the Syrian [meant Turkish - R.T.] base from which the attacking fighters came? Such a move would almost certainly lead to war between Russia and NATO. Will he apply sanctions against Turkey, possibly leading to a ramping up of the sanctions against Russia from Turkey's allies? 

Or will he choose the wisest, but perhaps the most difficult course - seemingly doing nothing. A diplomatic offensive now will humiliate and isolate Turkey, and thoroughly discredit the Western position and its covert (with Turkey's attack on Russia, overt) support of Islamic terror. 

It may not be the most macho or ostensibly "right" response - especially as far as his domestic audience is concerned - but it is in fact, the strongest one. It takes a strong leader, one with vision, to hold back -- not only to act, but not to act, when necessary.  

We already know Vladimir Putin will take the high road. He has done so countless times, when everyone else seemed to have gone totally insane.

He did not invade Ukraine and seize Kiev, when Washington installed a hostile regime directly on Russia's border. His response was limited to securing Sevastopol against the US 6th fleet, and protecting the physical existence of Russian-speakers. 

He, along with then President Medvedev, did not annex Georgia, or topple Saakashvili, when the latter recklessly used force against South Ossetia, violating cease-fire agreements and killing Russian citizens. Russia neutralized the Georgian army, then retreated to its bases.

Putin decisively defused the previous attempt in 2013, to bomb and invade Syria through the skillful use of diplomacy, securing from Assad an unprecedented agreement to declare and destroy all chemical weapons. (Nobel committee - are you blind?)

During the last 15 years Putin has not used force, or even the threat of force, to prevent any country from joining the anti-Russian NATO alliance, even as it expanded up to Russia's doorstep. Rather, Moscow persistently and publicly upholds the right of sovereign states to make independent choices.

Just as in 1962, when the world owed its existence to the reserve of Kennedy and Khruschev, today we in no small measure owe the peace of Europe and the world, to the patient determination of Russia's president.

And one may rest assured that whatever Putin's response to this crisis, it will be one we have come to expect from Europe's last real statesman.

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