Obama Admin: ‘No Reason’ Russian Plane Should Be Near Turkey’s Airspace

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Obama administration, in response to the Turkish military shooting down a Russian warplane, suggested that Moscow had no business flying near Syria’s border with Turkey because there were no Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists operating there.

Turkey fired on a Russian warplane Tuesday, saying it violated its airspace. The Russian Sukhoi Su-24 was eventually shot down after the pilots, who were forced to eject over Syria, ignored 10 warnings by the Turkish military, the U.S. military has confirmed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that the jet posed no threat to Turkey and was targeting ISIS in the Latakia province of Syria.

A U.S. military official suggested that the Russian aircraft should have avoided flying close to the Turkish border, as mandated by international protocols and standards of norms.

“There’s no reason for aircraft to be flying where they shouldn’t, frankly,” said U.S. Army Col. Steven Warren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

His comments came in response to a reporter asking, “If a country’s territorial airspace extends 12 miles from its borders, shouldn’t the Russian aircraft have avoided going into that buffer zone?”

President Obama and Pentagon officials have declared that there were no ISIS jihadists in the area where the incident took place, adding that it could have been avoided if Russia was actually focused on targeting the terrorist group instead of going after rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are operating very close to a Turkish border, and they are going after a moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries,” said President Obama during a joint press conference with French president Francois Hollande at the White House, referring to the incident. “And if Russia is directing its energies towards… ISIL, some of those conflicts, or potentials for mistakes or escalation, are less likely to occur.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook and Col. Warren echoed the president, noting that the Russian aircraft was flying over an area that is not controlled by ISIS.

“I want to highlight something that the president referenced and that is where the Russians where flying this particular mission — not an area controlled by ISIL, an area along the border with Turkey where there’s been problems with incursions in the past. Russia, if it was focused more on the ISIL fight, perhaps this incident wouldn’t have happened at all,” Cook told reporters.

He indicated that the recent Russian venture into Turkish airspace would mark the third incursion. Cook said the U.S. “is still gathering details” and has not determined whether Russia violated Turkey’s airspace.

While briefing reporters at the Pentagon from Baghdad after Turkey shot down the Russia plane, Col. Warren lambasted Russian military operations in Syria, describing them as “sloppy,” “reckless,” “irresponsible,” and “frankly uncaring.”

“Only a fraction of their attacks have been against ISIL targets. There are no ISIL targets in that area, where all this happened, anyway,” he said. “So we are concerned when the Russians don’t do what they say they’re going to do, right. The Russians have said that they’re here to fight terrorism, but the Russians have routinely now demonstrated that their goal is to, you know, prop up and prolong the Assad regime.”

Col. Warren confirmed that the Turkish military issued 10 warnings before shooting down the plane, but the Russians did not respond.

He said there was no mayday call from the pilots.

“While we’re still gathering details, the United States and NATO support the right of Turkey to defend its airspace and sovereignty. We urge Turkey and Russia to de-escalate this situation, resolve this matter through discussion, diplomacy, and deconflicting measures,” said Cook.

Putin claims the Russian warplane was taken down when it was 1 km (0.62 mile) inside Syria and warned of “serious consequences” for what he described as a stab in the back administered by “the accomplices of terrorists.”

“We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today,” he declared.