Haberturk TV / AP

Putin warns of ‘consequences’ after Turkey downs Russian jet near Syria

Plane shot down after it violated Turkish airspace, a long-feared escalation that could further inflame Syria’s conflict

Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane Tuesday after repeated warnings over airspace violations, a long-feared development in the civil war in Syria, whose skies have gotten increasingly crowded. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin called NATO member Turkey's action a "stab in the back by the terrorists' accomplices" and warned of "significant consequences," and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov canceled a visit to Turkey that had been planned for Wednesday.

At Turkey's request, NATO's governing body called an emergency meeting.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted his country has the right to take "all kinds of measures" against border violations and called on the international community to work toward "extinguishing the fire that is burning in Syria."

Turkey said the Russian Su-24 jet ignored several warnings that it was nearing, then intruding into Turkish airspace. Russia insisted the plane stayed over Syria, where it was supporting ground action against Syrian rebels. A Turkish military statement said the plane entered Turkish airspace over the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province. It said the plane was warned 10 times in five minutes.

But Russia insisted the plane stayed on the Syrian side of the border, where it was supporting ground action by Syrian government troops against rebels.

"We will never tolerate such atrocities as happened today, and we hope that the international community will find the strength to join forces and fight this evil," Putin said.

A U.S. official told Al Jazeera that the penetration of Turkish airspace by the Russian jet lasted "only a matter of seconds" as it crossed a less-than-2-mile-wide section of Turkey for 20 seconds. 

While the U.S. and Russia have both vowed to defeat ISIL, the U.S. remains skeptical of Putin's motivations in Syria, given his long-standing support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose departure has been a U.S. goal for years.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday said, "Turkey, like every country, has a right to defend its territory and airspace," adding that while details of what exactly happened are still not certain, all sides must "take measures to discourage any kind of escalation." 

Video footage of the incident showed a warplane on fire before crashing on a hill and two crewmembers apparently parachuting down

The two Russian crewmembers tried to land in government-held areas after they ejected but came under fire from a Syrian rebel group. 

Jahed Ahmad, a spokesman the 10th Coast Division, a Syrian rebel group that includes local Turkmen fighters, said its forces fired at the Russian pilots as they descended, killing one. The Russian Defense Ministry later said, based on preliminary information, that one of its pilots was killed in the air by ground fire after the crew ejected. 

But according to a statement from local Turkmen fighters to Reuters, both pilots were killed. "Both of the pilots were retrieved dead. Our comrades opened fire into the air, and they died in the air," Alpaslan Celik, a deputy commander in a Syrian Turkmen brigade said near the Syrian village of Yamadi as he held what he said was a piece of a pilot's parachute.

Later Tuesday, Russia's military said that one of its two helicopters searching for the jet's crew in Syria was shot down by rebel fire and one serviceman was killed. The rest of its crew was evacuated and taken back to the air base used by Russia in Syria.

A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber taking off from the Hmeimim air base in the Syrian province of Latakia, Oct. 3, 2015.

Despite harsh words, some analysts believe that Russia and Turkey have reasons not to let the incident escalate.

"Relations have been very strained between Russia and Turkey of late, so Moscow will be trying its utmost to contain the damage this might cause," said Natasha Kuhrt, a lecturer on international peace and security at King's College London.

"It's a serious incident in anybody's book," said Ian Kearns, the director of the European Leadership Network, a London think tank.

But he said the Russian-Turkish economic relationship, including in the energy field, is important to Moscow. And Russia and the West appeared to be moving toward an understanding of their common strategic interest in eradicating the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant after the bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt and the attacks in Paris, both of which the group claimed responsibility for.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry invited diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council for a meeting to brief them about Tuesday's incident. Separately, the Russian charge d'affaires was invited for a meeting, during which Turkey conveyed its sensitivities over border violations.

Turkey has protested repeatedly that Russian planes supporting Assad were straying across the Syria-Turkey border — a complaint repeated to the Russian ambassador as recently as Friday.

And after earlier accusations of Russian intrusions into Turkish airspace, the U.S. European Command on Nov. 6 deployed six U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters from their base in Britain to Incirlik air base in Turkey to help it secure its skies. Separately, a U.S. defense official confirmed that “U.S. forces were not involved” in Tuesday's incident. 

The European Command said the deployment was “in response to the government of Turkey's request for support in securing the sovereignty of Turkish airspace.”

In October, NATO's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, warned Moscow it was courting “extreme danger” by sending planes into Turkish airspace.

Turkey and Russia have been at odds over the crisis in Syria. Turkey has been concerned over Russia's bombing of Turkmen areas and the fact that the Russian operations have complicated the possibility of creating a safe zone in northern Syria to protect civilians as well as moderate Syrian rebels fighting Assad. The creation of a safe zone has been a Turkish goal.

Turkey has long been seeking the ouster of Assad — an important Russian ally whom Moscow has bolstered with a full-scale military intervention that began in September.

The Russian plane was supporting Syrian troops that have been on the offensive in an area controlled by several insurgent groups, including Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, Jabhat Al-Nusra (the Nusra Front), and the 2nd Coastal Division and the 10th Coast Division.

Al Jazeera and wire services

Related News

Russia, Syria, Turkey

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Russia, Syria, Turkey

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter