Vladimir Putin claims incident was a stab in the back while Recep Tayyip Erdoan says everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend its borders
Nato and the United Nations have called for calm in the wake of the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish aircraft that drew warnings of serious consequences from Vladimir Putin.
The Russian president described the incident over Turkeys volatile border with Syria on Tuesday the first time a Nato member state has shot down a Russian warplane since the Korean war in the 1950s as a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists and claimed the Russian plane, a Su-24 bomber, had been downed inside Syria while in action against Chechen militants.
In signs of deepening divisions between the two countries, Russia warned its citizens not to go on holiday in Turkey and its defence ministry cut off contacts with its Turkish counterpart. On Tuesday night, its general staff confirmed that one of the pilots of the downed jet had been killed and a marine died while on a rescue mission. The fate of the jets second pilot was unclear.
Speaking before a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Sochi, Putin said: 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 cant describe it in any other way. We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today.
In Ankara, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, summoned his top generals to an emergency national security meeting to decide Turkeys next step. The Turkish government said the Russian plane had been warned 10 times to turn back as it approached the border, but had still flown into Turkish airspace for a few seconds. Ankara stressed the incident had followed a string of Russian incursions in recent weeks.
The reason why worse incidents have not taken place in the past regarding Syria is the cool-headedness of Turkey, Erdoan said. Nobody should doubt that we made our best efforts to avoid this latest incident. But everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend its borders.
The US president and Nato both backed the Turkish version of events. Barack Obama said Turkey had a right to defend itself, while the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said assessments we have got from several allies are consistent with the Turkish account.
Stoltenberg said that Nato stood in solidarity with Turkey and its territorial integrity, but called for calm and de-escalation, urging Ankara and Moscow to maintain contacts. The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called on all relevant parties to take urgent measures with a view to de-escalate the tensions.
Bans spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters: He hopes that a credible and thorough review will clarify the events and help prevent future recurrences.
Turkmen militiamen in Syria claimed to have shot the pilots as they descended on parachutes from the stricken Su-24 bomber. The Turkmen rebels, who are supported by Ankara and who have been the target of earlier Russian bombing, broadcast a video of what appeared to be a dead Russian pilot.
The rebels also posted footage appearing to show one of their missiles destroying a helicopter while it was on the ground, which they said was a Russian aircraft sent to rescue the downed Su-24 crew, although it was not possible to verify the footage.
A Russian military spokesman later said one of the rescue helicopters had been forced to make an emergency landing after being hit by fire from the ground and a marine on board had been killed.
Within hours of the jets downing, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced the first reprisal, warning Russian tourists not to go to Turkey, a potentially significant loss of revenue for Ankara. Lavrov compared the terrorist threat there to Egypt, where a Russian airliner was brought down by a bomb earlier this month, and he cancelled a planned trip to Ankara on Wednesday.
The Russian defence ministry said on its website that it considered the actions of the Turkish air force as an unfriendly act, adding that it was designing a complex of measures directed to respond such incidents.
In his remarks, Putin complained in particular that Turkey had contacted its Nato allies before getting in touch with Moscow, as if we shot down their plane and not they ours.
Ankara summoned an emergency meeting of Nato ambassadors in the North Atlantic Council on Tuesday evening to share information about the incident. However, the Turkish government stopped short of calling the meeting under article 4 of the alliances founding treaty, which would have represented a more formal response to a threat to a member states territorial integrity and security.
Turkey said one of its US-made F-16 fighters fired on the Russian plane when it entered Turkish airspace after having been warned on its approach to the Turkish border.
In a letter to the British ambassador to the United Nations, currently serving as the president of the UN security council, the Turkish government wrote: This morning, two Su-24 planes have approached Turkish national airspace in Yayladaga/Hatay region. The planes in question have been warned 10 times during a period of five minutes via emergency channels and asked to change their headings south immediately. Disregarding these warnings, both planes, at an altitude of 19,000 feet violated Turkish airspace to a depth of 1.36 miles and 1.15 miles for 17 seconds from 9.24.05 local time.
Following the violation, plane 1 left Turkish national airspace. Plane 2 was fired at while in Turkish national airspace by Turkish F-16s performing air combat patrolling in that area in accordance with the rules of engagement. Plane 2 crashed on to the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkey had complained about previous alleged incursions prompting a visit from a Russian military delegation and an apology for one of the incidents.
Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who is now the chairman of the Edam thinktank in Istanbul, said: This was an incident in the making for some time as we have had some near misses in the past few weeks where Turkey did not fully implement its own rules of engagement.
There were two airspace violations and, after that, a very high level Russian military delegation came to Turkey to talk about it, including a top air force official. They apologised for one of the incidents, saying that in that case the Russian pilot didnt speak the language. So we thought we had an understanding and solved the problem. So its a surprise that it happened since that visit.
Ulgen, who is also a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added: But its not a surprise in terms of Russian strategy. Since the intervention, the Russians have been testing the Turkish response at its borders and its rules of engagement.
Dmitri Trenin, Russia analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: Russia will not take the downing of its plane, the first such incident with a Nato country in over half a century, lightly. The death of the Russian pilot or pilots will not be forgiven or forgotten.
Relations with Turkey will be revised completely. Putin will write off Erdogan as a partner, and Turkey will no longer be regarded as a friendly country. A suspension of air travel is the next logical step to divert millions of Russian holidaymakers from Turkey.
The Turkish Stream gas pipeline project will be put on hold or cancelled. In Syria itself, Russian bombers will be accompanied by fighter planes, so in a future encounter the Russian air force may have means to protect itself.
Ian Kearns, the director for the European Leadership Network (ELN), an advocacy group for diplomacy and nuclear disarmament, said: This will be a major diplomatic row, but I dont think there will be a military escalation.
Turkey and Russia have a strong relationship based on trade, economics and tourism. Secondly, there has been a confluence of circumstances that have brought Russia and the west together over Syria: the Sharm el-Sheikh plane bomb and the Paris attacks. Russia has a strategic interest in exploiting that opportunity.
The ELN recently published a report warning of the increasing threat of a clash between Russian and Nato planes, not just around Turkey but also over the Baltic Sea, where the Russian air force has been flying close to, and occasionally into, the airspace of Nato members.
The report advocated a new mechanism for exchanging information and minimising the chance of misunderstandings. Otherwise, well get more of these kind of incidents and one day, one of them will escalate, Kearns said.
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