Moscow – The downing of a Russian warplane by a Turkish fighter jet at the border with Syria has caused an increasingly tense spat between Moscow and Ankara.
Turkey said its jet shot down the Russian Su-24 bomber after it flew into its airspace for 17 seconds despite repeated warnings. Russia said there have been no warnings and remained over the Syrian territory in the northern Latakia province, and denounced the Turkish action as an ‘act of aggression’.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey sees no need for apology and would shoot down any intruding place in the future. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the downing of the plane was a “treacherous stab in the back” by Turkey, whom it accused of involvement in massive illegal oil trade with the Islamic State group. Putin has sent long-range air defense planes to a Russian base in Syria near the border with Turkey to help protect Russian warplanes and ordered to draft an array of economic sanctions against Ankara.
THREAT OF A RUSSIA-NATO CONFRONTATION
Immediately after the plane was downed, NATO member Turkey called a meeting with other alliance members to seek support over the incident. Under the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on an alliance member obliges NATO to come to rescue. If Russia responds tit-for-tat and downs a Turkish plane, Ankara could proclaim itself a victim of Russian aggression, and NATO would be obliged to act.
Other NATO members fretted at the prospect of a possible confrontation with Russia over the Turkish action and called for restraint. Washington said that Turkey has the right to defend itself, but voiced hope for easing tensions through dialogue.
While most experts don’t expect the incident to escalate into an open military confrontation between Russia and NATO, but the plane’s downing would be certain to further complicate the situation in Syria and derail international efforts to broker a political settlement.
Putin immediately responded to the plane’s downing by ordering the deployment of the S-400 air defense missiles at the Russian air base in Latakia, located just 50 kilometers south of the border with Turkey, to protect Russian warplanes from any further attacks. The sophisticated missile systems will be able to target Turkish planes deep inside the Turkish territory.
The Russian military also sent the missile cruiser Moskva closer to the shore to help cover the Russian jets with its long-range air defense systems. Russia also said that from now on it will always send fighter jets to escort its bombers on combat sorties.
Moscow said that it wouldn’t hesitate to shoot down any aerial target that may pose a potential threat to its aircraft. Clearly fazed by the Russian moves, Turkey on Friday suspended its warplanes near the Syrian border, which they have routinely violated.
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