On Tuesday morning, two Turkish F-16 fighters engaged a Russian Sukhoi-24 warplane and shot it down with an air-to-air missile, somewhere north of the Syrian port city of Latakia.
As reported by Fox News, the Turkish military says the Russian jet violated Turkey’s airspace near the town Yayladagi, and was given 10 warnings over the course of five minutes before it was shot down.
“In line with the military rules of engagement, the Turkish authorities repeatedly warned an unidentified aircraft that they were 15km or less away from the border. The aircraft didn’t heed the warnings and proceeded to fly over Turkey. The Turkish air forces responded by downing the aircraft,” said a Turkish official quoted by the UK Guardian.
“This isn’t an action against any specific country: our F-16s took necessary steps to defend Turkey’s sovereign territory,” the official added.
“On 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,” Fox News writes. “Ambassador Andrey Karlov was warned during the meeting that the Russian operations could lead to serious consequences, the ministry said.”
The Russians were also warned by NATO and the United States, which moved six F-15 fighters to Turkey’s Incirlik air space to assist with policing the border.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied Turkey’s claims, and says their plane was brought down by artillery fire. “We are looking into the circumstances of the crash of the Russian jet. The Ministry of Defense would like to stress that the plane was over the Syrian territory throughout the flight,” it said in a statement.
The Andalou news agency posted video of the intercept and crash, shot from the ground. According to Hurriyet Daily News, the plane crashed in an area where Turkmen have been living in tents.
The two pilots were able to parachute from the plane, after which the Russian government says it lost contact with them. Another video posted by RT.com purportedly shows one of the pilots dead, and surrounded by Syrian rebels. (WARNING: graphic imagery.)
According to Hurriyet, the other pilot survived, and has been captured by Turkmen forces. The Turkmen are fighting against the regime of Bashar Assad, which Russia supports. Russian helicopters have been sighted in the area, searching for the pilots and wreckage of the jet.
The Guardian quotes Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who now chairs a think tank in Istanbul, saying this was “an incident in the making for some time,” avoided over the past few weeks only because 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 didn’t speak the language. So we thought we had an understanding and solved the problem,” said Ulgen. “So it’s a surprise that it happened since that visit. But it’s 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.”
According to Ulgen, the Russian plane received warnings beginning when it was 13 miles out from the Turkish border, and Turkey scrambled the F-16s when it was five miles out.
Hurriyet reports that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has spoken with Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu about the incident, and has informed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Necessary initiatives will be taken at NATO, UN and at the level of countries concerned by the foreign ministry upon instructions from Mr Prime Minister,” said Davutoglu’s office, as reported by AFP.
AFP notes that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to visit Turkey on Wednesday, in a “bid to smooth ties and find a joint approach to finding peace in Syria.” The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Lavrov’s visit would proceed as planned.