Turkey Defends Decision to Shoot Down Russian Jet; Putin Calls It 'Stab in the Back'
A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has defended Turkey's shooting down of a Russian fighter jet at the border with Syria, saying Ankara has the right "to take all kinds of measures" against border violations according to international law.
Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane on November 24 after warning that it had violated the country’s airspace, but Moscow said the aircraft had never strayed from Syrian territory and President Vladimir Putin called it "a stab in the back."
Putin said the downing of the plane would have "serious consequences" for relations between Russia and NATO member Turkey, which are deeply at odds over the Syrian civil war. Russia is a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Turkey is one of its most vocal critics
Davutoglu said Turkey will not hesitate to take all steps to protect the country's security, calling it Turkey's "national duty." He stressed that the action did not amount to an aggression against any foreign territory.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the rebel group that says it has the body of one of the Russian pilots who ejected from the downed plane says rebels are conducting search operations in the area to find the second crew member.
Jahed Ahmad of the 10th Brigade in the Coast, a group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, said his group would consider exchanging the body of the Russian pilot they are holding with prisoners held by the Syrian government.
NATO has called a special meeting at Turkey's request. The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of Russia, the United States, Britain, France, and China -- the permanent UN Security Council members -- to brief them on the downing of the jet.
Putin, meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the southern Russian resort city of Sochi, said that "today's loss is...a stab in the back that has been inflicted on us by accomplices of terrorism."
The Russian Defense Ministry initially said the Sukhoi jet was presumably downed by artillery fire from the ground in Syria, where Russia is conducting air strikes against opponents of Assad. But Putin said it was shot down with an air-to-air missile fired by a Turkish jet, in line with what Turkish authorities said.
"A Russian Su-24 plane was downed under the rules of engagement because it violated Turkish airspace despite the warnings," the Turkish president's office said. Military officials said two Turkish F16s warned the jet of the violation 10 times before shooting it down.
The Russian Defense Ministry maintained that "the plane was over Syrian territory throughout the flight" and said it could prove that. Putin said the aircraft crashed four kilometers from the Turkish border.
"In any case, our pilots and our aircraft did not threaten the Turkish Republic in any way. This is obvious. They were conducting an operation in the battle against ISIS," Putin said, referring to Islamic State (IS) militants that Russia says are the main target of its weekslong bombing campaign in Syria.
Turkish reports said plane was downed over the border area between Turkey's southern Hatay Province and an area in northwest Syria populated by the Turkic-speaking Turkoman minority.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it crashed in the Turkomen Mountains region in the coastal province of Latakia, which borders Turkey.
The Turkomen Mountains region has been targeted by a government offensive in recent days, aided by Russian air strikes. Russian and Syrian jets have been conducting a heavy bombing campaign against targets in northern Syria.
Russia has provided Assad's government with military and diplomatic support throughout the more than four-year civil war in Syria. It substantially stepped up its involvement on September 30, launching a campaign of air strikes targeting Assad's opponents.
Turkey, which like Western nations -- wants Assad out of power, has denounced the bombing campaign as a move to prop up the Syrian president. Turkish officials say the offensive has also displaced thousands of ethnic Turkoman Syrians.
Russia insists that its air campaign is largely aimed against Islamic State (IS) militants, who are also the target of air strikes conducted by a U.S.-led coalition. IS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt on October 31, killing all 244 people on board.
Putin has accused the United States and its allies of having double standards about terrorism, and has called on Washington and the West to accept Russia as an ally in the fight against IS. He has repeated those calls after the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on November 13.
Russian fighter jets entered Turkish airspace in two separate incidents in October, sparking protests from Turkish authorities.
The Turkish military last month also shot down a Russian-made drone that had entered its airspace. Moscow denied the drone belonged to its forces.
In October, the North Atlantic Council warned Moscow that it was courting "extreme danger" by sending planes into Turkish airspace.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, Interfax, and TASS.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL