In separate incidents, Russian warplanes appeared to threaten Turkey this weekend, reportedly crossing five miles into Turkish airspace in one incident and harassing two Turkish F-16s in another.
McClatchy reports that a warplane believed to be engaging in bombings in Syria appeared to come within five miles of Turkey; one U.S. official told the news outlets that the plane actually did cross into Turkish territory. Turkish officials say, however, that they had the plane on their radar, and were waiting for it to cross into the border to shoot it, but it never did. The U.S. official claims they did not fire because by the time Turkish jets had scrambled, the plane had returned to Syrian airspace.
The second incident of Turkish airspace violation involved an unidentified MIG-29 fighter jet, which allegedly followed and “harassed” two Turkish F-16s that were patrolling the border on Saturday. While the individual plane was not identified, both the Russian and Syrian military use this model plane.
The Russian government claimed the violations were a mistake, according to the Turkish government. “What we have received from Russia this morning is that this was a mistake and that they respect Turkey’s borders and this will not happen again,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu of the weekend events. The Russian government has claimed a “navigation error” was responsible for the incident, and has sent its ambassador in Ankara to the Turkish Foreign Ministry after being summoned for reprimand.
Speaking to Habertürk TV, Davutoğlu made clear that his government would not hesitate to attack Russian military aircraft. “Let me put it bluntly: Turkey’s rules of engagement are valid for Syria’s, Russia’s or another country’s warplanes. … Even if it’s a flying bird, whoever violates Turkish airspace will be subject to the necessary actions,” he asserted.
The Associated Press is reporting that American officials, who have opposed Russia’s entry into the Syrian war theater, appear not to believe that the incursion was an accident. According to one official, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity, “urgent talks” between American and Turkish officials are underway to resolve how to respond to the threat of Russia’s ongoing “unprofessional military conduct” internationally.
Davutoğlu had not expressly condemned Russia previously for its decision to invade Syria and intervene in the civil war in favor of President Bashar al-Assad. Instead, he had stated that Russia’s active role in the matter was “very dangerous” and that Turkey will “watch with deep concern,” but “İnşallah [God willing] Russia will not insist on ways and methods that will increase the tension.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a much harder line this weekend. “As Turkey, the steps that Russia is taking at the moment and the bombing campaign in Syria have no acceptable side,” he said at a press conference on Saturday, calling Russia’s actions in the region a “grave mistake.” He concluded, “The fact that it is taking these steps despite Turkey saddens us.”