On Friday, Turkey shot down a drone aircraft that violated its airspace. U.S. officials believe it was a Russian drone, although the Russians deny losing any of their equipment. Saturday brought a warning from Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that his country is prepared to fire on manned aircraft, as well.
“We downed a drone yesterday. If it was a plane we’d do the same. Our rules of engagement are known. Whoever violates our borders, we will give them the necessary answer,” Davutoglu said at a rally for his ruling AKP Party.
“The Turkish military said it shot down the unmanned aircraft after it continued on its course despite three warnings, in line with its rules of engagement. Broadcaster NTV said it had come 3 km (2 miles) into Turkish air space,” Reuters reports.
The report notes that Turkey has complained about several previous violations of its airspace by Russian planes conducting military operations in Syria. The Russian Defense Ministry has reportedly “established direct contact with the Turkish military” to avoid future incidents.
Not only have the Russians disputed Turkish claims that the downed UAV was a Russian-built Orlan-10 drone, but the manufacturer of such vehicles, the St. Petersburg Technological Center, alleges “The photos of the allegedly downed drone published on social media with reference to the Turkish General Staff look more like a poorly-staged informational provocation.”
In other words, they are accusing the Turks of faking the destruction of a Russian drone to make Russia look bad, or perhaps even provoke a military confrontation. The UK Express somewhat hyperbolically accuses Turkey of “risking World War 3 between the West and Russia [by] threatening to shoot down Putin’s war planes,” but it is unsettling to consider a chain of events that could begin with an exchange of fire between Turkish and Russian air forces, and end with the NATO charter’s invocation to bring U.S., British, and allied forces to Turkey’s defense.
Of course, the Turks are not moving their border back and forth by a half-dozen kilometers to trick the Russians into violating their airspace. It is really the Russians who are risking a larger confrontation. They have no valid tactical reason for flying over Turkey while bombing the enemies of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, as their targets have minimal air-defense capability. If this is Putin’s way of testing the NATO alliance to learn if it is more than a paper tiger, he’s playing a high-stakes game.