Turkey's forcing down of a Syrian civilian jet earlier this month on it way from Moscow to Damascus on suspicion that it was carrying military cargo was certainly a bold move by a country intent on showing its regional leadership. But two weeks later, the issue of the plane's cargo appears to remain a bone of contention between Ankara and Moscow, which has been both increasing its political and economic cooperation with Turkey while, at the same time, watching its growing regional ambitions with some concern.
Soon after the Syrian Arab Airlines plane was forced down by Turkish Air Force jets, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed "munitions" were found onboard. Moscow, meanwhile, said the airplane was carrying replacement parts for Russian-made radar systems in Syria and that there was nothing illegal about the shipment. Going further, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Russian press earlier this week that the Kremlin expects Ankara "to announce that the Syrian plane didn't have any weapons or military equipment.” The Turkish government appears to have stepped back from the claim that the Syrian aircraft was carrying "munitions," but in an interview this week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu maintained that the airplane's "military" cargo was being transported illegally. "You load military material aboard a civilian plane in violation of international law and, by assuming that – if it is appropriate to say so – we will ‘buy’ it and that we will not be able to see it, you then attempt to transport it over us," Davutoglu told Bugun TV.
Although both countries have been careful to keep their disagreement over how to deal with the crisis in Syria from affecting their growing relations, there is some concern in Turkey that the tension created by the Russian cargo issue could spill over into other areas where the two countries don't see eye-to-eye. In Russia, meanwhile, Turkey's forcing down of the Syrian airplane and its confiscation of the Russian cargo has given rise to some voices that are warning that Ankara's regional ambitions could threaten Moscow's interests. During a recent interview with the state-run Voice of Russia, Gennady Yevstafiev, a retired Lieutenant General with the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, warned: "We cannot sit quietly and watch how Turkey is going to increase its aggressiveness at the expense of Russia."
This may not represent the official Kremlin line, but it's the kind of comment that Turkish officials might want to pay attention to.