Turkey claims another Russian warplane violated its airspace on Friday, only two months after Turkish planes shot down a Russian jet, killing the pilot. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Russia would “endure the consequences” if its planes keep crossing into Turkey.
“We regard this infringement which came despite all our warnings in Russian and in English as an effort by Russia to escalate the crisis in the region,” said Erdogan. “If Russia continues the violations of Turkey’s sovereign rights, it will be forced to endure the consequences.”
NBC News notes he did not specify what the “consequences” might entail.
“These irresponsible steps do not help the Russian Federation, NATO-Russia relations or regional and global peace. On the contrary, they are detrimental,” Erdogan added.
NBC also reports Erdogan’s claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not respond to his calls after the incident. The Russian ambassador was summoned in Ankara to hear a “strong protest” from the Turkish government.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tried to strike a conciliatory tone, standing with NATO member Turkey in support of its “territorial integrity” and calling on Russia to “act responsibly” by respecting NATO airspace, but also encouraging “calm and de-escalation” on both sides.
The aircraft involved in this incident was an Su-34 “Fullback” fighter-bomber, the more advanced replacement for the Su-24 “Flanker” shot down by Turkey in November.
The BBC relates Turkey’s claim that the Su-34 crossed into their airspace at 11:46 local time Friday, ignoring radio warnings in both Russian and English.
The Russian Defense Ministry initially denied that the airspace violation had taken place, bluntly accusing the Turks of inventing the incident for “propaganda” purposes.
“There were no violations of Turkish airspace by aircraft of the Russian air group in the Syrian Arab Republic. Turkish authorities’ statements of an alleged violation of Turkish airspace by a Russian Su-34 jet are naked propaganda,” said Major General Igor Konashenkov, a Defense Ministry spokesman.
Russia’s RT.com quotes Konashenkov insisting that Turkish radar stations cannot determine the nationality of an aircraft, only its position and speed, and since no visual contact with the intruder has been reported, the Turks could not prove it was a Russian jet.
However, both NATO and the U.S. Department of Defense have backed up Turkey’s claim.
“We are aware of reports and can confirm that yesterday another Russian combat aircraft violated Turkish – and NATO – airspace,” said Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright, in another RT.com report. “We call on Russia to respect Turkish airspace and cease activities that risk further heightening instability in the region.”
This report also indicates that the Turkish Air Force has assumed its highest level of combat readiness, the “Orange” alert level, which warns pilots to expect combat engagement at any time. It is the first Orange alert declared since Turkish pilots began airstrikes on positions held by the Kurdish separatists of the PKK in Turkey and northern Iraq in mid-December.
“Russia can not cover up its violation of our airspace. It’s not possible to hide such an incident if it did happen, or to make up a violation if it didn’t happen,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Sunday. He is in Saudi Arabia to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries, including their approach to the Syrian civil war.
“Turkey has absolutely no intention of escalating tension with Russia, but we remain sensitive about protecting our airspace,” Davutoglu added.