Turkish fighter jets on patrol near the Syrian border on Tuesday shot down a Russian warplane that Turkey said had violated its airspace, a long-feared escalation that could further strain relations between Russia and the West.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu ordered the Foreign Ministry to consult with NATO and the United Nations over this episode, his office said in a statement, without elaborating. NATO announced that it would hold an emergency meeting in Brussels later on Tuesday to discuss the episode.
In his first remarks on the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that an F-16 Turkish fighter jet had shot down the Sukhoi Su-24 with an air-to-air missile. But he insisted that the Russian jet had been in Syrian airspace at the time and had never threatened Turkey’s territory.
‘Stab in the back’
Mr. Putin, speaking slowly and clearly angry before a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Sochi, Russia, said the episode would have “serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations”, but did not elaborate. He called the shooting down of the Russian jet a “stab in the back” by those who “abet” terrorism, and he accused Turkey of aiding the Islamic State by helping it sell its oil.
As Mr. Putin spoke, credible reports were emerging from rebel forces in Latakia province, where the Russian jet went down, that rebels possibly wielding TOW anti-tank missiles and other weapons had shot down a Russian helicopter sent to the scene of the crash to look for survivors. There was no official confirmation from Russia, and state-run television news cited only foreign reports.
The Turkish military did not identify the country which owned the plane, but said in a statement on its website that Turkish pilots fired only after repeated warnings to the other warplane. Turkey released a map that it said showed that the plane, flying east, was shot down as it transited a narrow finger of Turkish land less than three kilometres wide that juts down into Syria.
A Turkish government official told Reuters that Ankara believed the Russian pilots ejected from the jet and were alive. But a Russian General confirmed that one of the pilots was dead.