Turkey has shot down a Russian warplane that was carrying out operations near the Turkey-Syria border. Turkey says the plane violated Turkish airspace and was shot down after repeated warnings; Russia says the plane never entered Turkish airspace.
"We are looking into the circumstances of the crash of the Russian jet," Russia's Defense Ministry said. "The Ministry of Defense would like to stress that the plane was over the Syrian territory throughout the flight."It is a serious incident, particularly in that it follows a month-long build-up of tension over Russian incursions into Turkish airspace: "In October, NATO's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, had warned Moscow it was courting 'extreme danger' by sending planes into Turkish airspace." By early November, the US European Command had "deployed six U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters from their base in Britain to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to help the NATO-member country secure its skies," saying the deployment was "in response to the government of Turkey's request for support in securing the sovereignty of Turkish airspace."
Russia said the Su-24 was downed by artillery fire, but Turkey claimed that its F-16s fired on the Russian plane after it ignored several warnings.
..."This isn't an action against any specific country. Our F-16s took the necessary steps to defend Turkey's sovereign territory," a Turkish official said in an email.
..."It's the kind of thing we're been warning about," said Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network think-tank in London. "And it's a direct military engagement between a NATO country and Russia, so I think it's a serious incident in anybody's book."
But the incursions reportedly continued, and, last Friday: "Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador demanding that Russia cease operations in Syria targeting Turkmen villages, saying the Russian actions did not 'constitute a fight against terrorism' but the bombing of civilians. Ambassador Andrey Karlov was warned during the meeting that the Russian operations could lead to serious consequences, the ministry said."
That's the backdrop to what happened today. It wasn't a one-off event, but a culmination of tension caused by Russian provocation.
And now Putin is being expectedly bellicose (note particularly his implication that Turkey is essentially an extension of the US):
This event is beyond the normal framework of fighting against terrorism. Of course our military is doing heroic work against terrorism... But the loss today is a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists. I can't describe it in any other way. Our aircraft was downed over the territory of Syria, using air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16. It fell on the Syrian territory 4km from Turkey.For Turkey's part, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has asserted the country's right to defend itself: "We want the international community to know that we are ready for any kind of sacrifice when the security and life of our citizens and our border security are concerned. The downing of a jet that had violated Turkish airspace today has to be seen in this context as well. We do not adopt an approach that impeaches on the sovereignty of any country. But the world needs to know that it is our international right and our national duty to take measures against anybody who violates our borders on the land and in the air, in spite of our many warnings."
Neither our pilots nor our jet threatened the territory of Turkey. This is obvious. They are fighting terrorists in the northern areas around Latakia, where militants are located, mainly people who originated in Russia, and they were pursuing their direct duty, to make sure these people do not return to Russia. These are people who are clearly international terrorists.
Taking into account that we signed an agreement on deconflicting with the US, and as we know Turkey was among the ones that has joined the US coalition. Since Isis has such huge resources of hundreds of millions and billions of dollars coming from illicit oil sales, and they are protected by the armed forces of other states, then it's clear why they are so brazen, why they are killing people, why they are carrying out terrorist attacks throughout the world including in the heart of Europe.
We will analyse everything, and today's tragic event will have significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations. We have always treated Turkey as a friendly state. I don’t know who was interested in what happened today, certainly not us. And instead of immediately getting in contact with us, as far as we know, the Turkish side immediately turned to their partners from Nato to discuss this incident, as if we shot down their plane and not they ours.
NATO will be holding an emergency meeting in Brussels today to discuss the incident. As of yesterday, Brussels was still on the highest alert level following the attacks in Paris, which makes holding the meeting in Brussels either a very smart idea, because of the heightened security, or a very foolish idea, because of the heightened threat.
Meanwhile, the US State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert owing to "possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats."
So that's where we are. None of it good.