As reported by Censor.NET, Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky writes, recalling that Putin has demanded an apology and compensation from Turkey for shooting down a Russian bomber, while Erdogan wants Russia to apologize. The Kremlin's propaganda outlets were swift to deliver an outpouring of anti-Turkish rhetoric. Yet Russia hasn't done much to impose specific economic sanctions or taken military action, making Putin's emotional reaction look puerile and ill-considered.
The columnist recalls that immediately after the downing of the warplane, Russia deployed S-400 antiaircraft systems at its airbase in Syria. Russian propaganda outlets are reporting that the presence of the air defenses has prevented the U.S.-led coalition from conducting airstrikes in Syria. The allies have denied that claim, and even if it were correct, the only beneficiary would be the Islamic State. None of this much affects Turkey, because it isn't conducting airstrikes. Bershidsky mentions the hatred sentiments spawned by Russia's media. Dmitri Kiselyov, No. 1 propagandist in Russia, has accused Erdogan of a range of evils, from buying Islamic State oil to trying to restore the Ottoman Empire. The ultranationalist legislator Vladimir Zhirinovsky demanded that 100 Turkish pilots be killed as revenge while several hundred people threw eggs and stones at the windows of the Turkish Embassy in Moscow.
In addition, Moscow came up with a ban on the sale of package tours and charter flights, curbs on truck traffic and an embargo on fruit and vegetables. At this, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said any measures must not lead to price rises. The experience however proves to be opposite: Russia's food embargo against most Western countries, imposed last summer, led to 20 percent to 30 percent price jumps.
The fruit and vegetable embargo is painful for both sides, but could hurt ordinary Russians most. Turkey's agricultural exports to Russia reached $1.2 billion last year, about 7 percent of total food exports. Turkish farmers probably will close the gap without much trouble. Last year, their counterparts in Europe experienced an increase in exports despite the Russian embargo.
For Russia, the loss is greater: About 20 percent of vegetable imports are from Turkey, as are about 90 percent of citrus fruit sold in major retail chains. And Turkey was by far the biggest tourist destination for Russians last year. Turkish resorts made billions, but losing this trade won't be a matter of life and death for the industry.
Putin could have hurt Erdogan much more by cutting off the flow of Russian natural gas - Turkey is 60 percent dependent on it or scrapping the construction of Turkey's first nuclear plant by Russia's state-owned Rosatom. Russia's energy suppliers would lose a lucrative market, and the natural gas supplier Gazprom would stand to lose southern Europe to suppliers such as Azerbaijan and Iran. Azerbaijan already pipes gas to Turkey, and would be happy to supply more.
Instead of risking that, the Russian government is imposing new costs on its own citizens, hoping it can offset them with inflammatory propaganda. Despite the tactic's past efficiency, it's getting hard to sustain given how many enemies Putin has made during his third presidential term. As their country clashes with a growing number of its neighbors and the world closes in, Russians may eventually realize that perhaps Putin is the problem, not the solution.