Turkey announced Tuesday its warplanes shot down a Russian military aircraft on the border with Syria.
Russian president Vladimir Putin confirmed the downing in a press conference, blasting the incident as a “stab in the back” committed by “accomplices of terrorists.”
While Putin said the Su-24 was hit by air-to-air missiles fired by Turkish F-16s as it flew over Syrian territory, Turkish military officials said the Russians were engaged after being warned – 10 times in 5 minutes – that it was violating Turkish airspace.
The Turkish military released a map showing what it said was the flight of the jet as it apparently crossed into Turkey over Hatay Province, which abuts northern Syria.
Turkish military released this map to justify their attack.
But Putin insisted his fighters had been targeting Isis-related terrorists and had not violated Turkish airspace.
“They were carrying out an operation against [Islamic State militants] in the mountains of northern Latakia, where militants who originate from Russian territory are concentrated. So they were carrying the key task of preventative attacks against those who could return to Russia at any time,” Putin said.
Turkish video of the downing shows the Russian plane in a free-fall descent, leaving a trail of smoke and fire as it crashed into the mountains of northern Latakia. Russian and Syrian planes have been targeting Turkmen fighters who have been seeking more support from Ankara in their fight against the Syrian regime.
Turkey has repeatedly warned Russia and Syria that it was ready to help Turkmen rebels.
The Russian pilots were filmed safely parachuting to earth.
Two parachutes, presumably the pilots, were also seen safely gliding to earth, but Syrian rebels later released video showing the body of what appeared to be one of the Russian pilots.
Tuesday’s downing is not the first time that cross-border skirmishes have erupted into violence. On June 22, 2012, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish fighter jet as it patrolled the border between the two nations. In March, 2014, Turkey shot down a Syrian jet that it accused of violating its airspace in a hostile manner. Turkey has also fired shells into Syria when mortars strayed into Turkish territory, and shot down an unarmed Russian drone last October.
NATO has vowed to protect member-state Turkey against Syria. Germany deployed Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey in 2012.
The mounting risk of military confrontation between Turkey and Russia along the Syrian border is also threatening strong trade ties, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning Moscow to “think carefully” about taking steps counter to Ankara’s national interests.
The incident is expected to be a focus of talks on Wednesday when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov travels to Turkey for previously scheduled meetings.
After Russia’s first incursions into the Turkish airspace in early October, Mr. Erdogan threatened Moscow with diverting Turkey’s natural gas purchases to other providers—a move that would curb Russian energy sales to its second biggest market.
Russia has responded by announcing that it cut in half the capacity of a gas pipeline dubbed Turk Stream, which Moscow wants to build to circumvent Ukraine to deliver gas to Europe.
Tense diplomatic ties between Moscow and Ankara could also threaten the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.