Turkey downs Russian military aircraft near Syria’s border


Russian jet shot down near Syrian border

A Russian fighter jet's been shot down near the Syria border, apparently after coming under fire from the ground. The Turkish military said it shot down a plane after it was repeatedly warned about violating Turkish airspace. (Reuters)


Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian jet Tuesday after NATO-member Turkey says the plane violated its airspace on the border with Syria, a major escalation in the Syrian conflict that could further strain relations between Russia and the West.

Russian officials confirmed that a Russian Su-24 fighter had been shot down, but insisted it had not violated Turkish airspace.

“A stab in the back,” complained Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

Turkey’s military, however, said that the Russian jet was warned multiple times before it was shot down by two F-16 fighter jets in the border zone in western Syria in mountains not far from the Mediterranean coast.

The downing brings renewed attention to a scenario feared for months by the Pentagon and its partners: a potential conflict arising from overlapping air missions over Syria — with Russia backing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes the Islamic State.

NATO and Russia have been at odds over a series of flash points since the Cold War — including the NATO-led bombings in Bosnia in the 1990s and NATO support for Ukraine last year against pro-Moscow separatists — but the Syrian conflict has now put the two powers in possibly dangerous proximity.

It also could complicate a diplomatic push to bring greater international coordination to the fight against the Islamic State. The militant group — with strongholds in Syria and Iraq — has claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 Paris attacks that claimed at least 130 lives, and the Oct. 31 downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that killed all 224 aboard.

French President François Hollande planned meetings later Tuesday with President Obama in Washington to discuss strategies against the Islamic State and parallel efforts to seek a negotiated end to Syria’s nearly five-year civil war. Hollande is expected to meet later in the week with Putin and other world leaders.

Last month, the Western alliance decried a “troubling escalation” by Russian forces in Syrian and raised concerns about attack missions within sight of NATO borders.

The Su-24 is one of dozens of fixed-wing aircraft flying sorties in Syria as part of Russia’s two-month-old bombing campaign, which Moscow says is aimed at crippling the Islamic State.

But Russian attacks have heavily targeted rebel groups — some backed by Turkey and its Western partners — seeking to bring down Assad, who is closely allied with Russia and Iran.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the plane, flying at an altitude of 6,000 meters (nearly 20,000 feet), was likely shot down “due to shelling from the ground.” It said it wanted to “stress that the plane was over the Syrian territory throughout the flight.”

In the Russian resort city of Sochi, Putin said that the plane “did not threaten the territory of Turkey” and claimed it was “pursuing operations” against the Islamic State in mountainous areas north of the Syrian port of Latakia.

He called the Turkish response a “stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists” — an apparent reference to Turkish-supported rebel forces fighting Assad.

“Today’s tragic cases will have significant consequences for the relations between Russia and Turkey,” Putin told reporters after talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whose nation is part of the U.S.-led coalition.

Putin claimed Turkey “immediately turned to its partners from NATO to discuss this incident as though it was us who downed the Turkish jet and not the other way around.”

“Do they want to put NATO at ISIS’s service?” he said, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State.

In further signs of the increasing fallout, NATO called an emergency meeting for later Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American forces were not involved in the plane incident, although commanders “closely monitor activity in the region.” In early November, the United States deployed additional fighter aircraft to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base to help the country protect its airspace.

More at:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/turkey-downs-russian-military-aircraft-near-syrias-border/2015/11/24/9e8e0c42-9288-11e5-8aa0-5d0946560a97_story.html