ISTANBUL—One of the world’s most volatile regions was roiled further Tuesday when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border, CNN reported.
Turkey and Russia exchanged bellicose language after the downing of the plane, raising fears in the international community that the brutal Syrian conflict could spiral into something much wider.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the downing of the Russian plane would have “serious consequences for Russia’s relationship with Turkey.”
The shooting down of the plane, Putin said, “represents a stab in the back by the terrorists’ accomplices. I can’t describe what has happened today in any other way. Our plane was downed over Syrian territory by an air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16 jet.
“The plane fell on Syrian territory 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the Turkish border. It was flying 1 kilometer away from the Turkish border when it was attacked. In any case, neither our pilots nor our jet posed any threat to Turkey. That is obvious. They were carrying out an operation fighting against ISIL in Northern Latakia.” (ISIL is another acronym for ISIS or Da’esh)
While authorities in Ankara have insisted that it shot down the Russian Su-24 bomber after the aircraft entered Turkish airspace, the Russian Defense Ministry has released video proving that the plane never left Syrian airspace, reported Sputnik News.
Flight data released by Russian Ministry of Defense shows that the Su-24s never entered Turkey, and were attacked while performing legitimate maneuvers over Syria.
Obama Defends Turkey
President Barack Obama said Tuesday that “Turkey has the right to defend its country and its airspace,” but he acknowledged that U.S. officials “don’t have all the information yet,” reported CNN.
Obama said it was important that Russia and Turkey are in contact with one another to “take measures to discourage any kind of escalation.”
He said the plane incident “points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations” in Syria, which are taking place very close to the Turkish border and going after “moderate opposition” that has the support of Turkey.
If Russia instead focused on fighting only ISIS, “some of those conflicts or potential for escalation are less likely to occur,” Obama said.
One Dead as Russian Mi-8 Helicopter Attacked During Rescue Mission in Syria
A Russian Mi-8 helicopter came under attack while conducting a search and rescue operation, searching for the crew of the downed Su-24 in Syria. One naval infantry soldier was reported killed, the helicopter destroyed by mortar fire, reported Sputnik News.
The Russian General Staff said that two Mi-8s were involved in the operation to save the crew of the downed Su-24 bomber jet.
One helicopter was shot down, its crew evacuated to the Russian base at Hmeymim.
“A search-and-rescue operation involving two Mi-8 helicopters was carried out, charged with evacuating the pilots from the landing site. During the operation, as a result of small-arms fire, one of the helicopters was damaged, and forced to make a landing on neutral territory. One naval infantry soldier of contract service was killed,” Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi, the head of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, told reporters on Tuesday.
The officer noted that the “personnel from the search-and-rescue team and the helicopter’s crew have been evacuated and are now located at the Hmeymim air base. The downed helicopter was destroyed by mortar fire from territory controlled by armed gangs.”
“The search-and-rescue operation tasked with finding the crew of the downed Russian bomber continues,” Rudskoi added, emphasizing that the territories in which the operation was conducted is believed to be controlled by radical rebel groups.