Friday 24 February 2017

Turks stabbed us in back by downing our jet - Putin

Roland Oliphant

Mr Putin went on to accuse Turkey of turning a blind eye to vast quantities of Isil-produced oil crossing its territory, implying that it is one of the main sources of funding for the terror group and said such international support was crucial to the terror group’s survival
Mr Putin went on to accuse Turkey of turning a blind eye to vast quantities of Isil-produced oil crossing its territory, implying that it is one of the main sources of funding for the terror group and said such international support was crucial to the terror group’s survival

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has accused Turkey of "stabbing Russia in the back" by shooting down a Russian jet today.

Speaking during a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, Mr Putin said the pilots had been "fulfilling their duty" "in the context of the fight against terrorism".

"The loss of our aircraft comes in the context of our fight against terrorism. But today's loss was a blow in the back by the accomplices of terrorists. I can't qualify this in any other way. Our plane was downed over Syrian territory by an air-to-air missile from a Turkish F16. It crashed inside Syria, 4km from the Turkish border.

"At the time it was engaged it was at 6,000m altitude and one kilometre from the Turkish border. In any case, our pilots never threatened the territory of Turkey. This is obvious."

Mr Putin went on to accuse Turkey of turning a blind eye to vast quantities of Isil-produced oil crossing its territory, implying that it is one of the main sources of funding for the terror group and said such international support was crucial to the terror group's survival.

"Why they are killing people and committing so many atrocities, that's why they are conducting terrorist attacks throughout the world, including in Europe," he said.

He also said that there would be "serious consequences" for Turkey's relationship with Russia.

The two pilots ejected from the jet and there are conflicting reports regarding their fate, with various claims that one or both are dead, or that both are being held by Turkmen militia operating in Syria.

In what appears to be a separate incident, another Syrian rebel group - the Free Syrian Army's First Coastal Division - says it has hit a Russia helicopter on Turkmen Mountain, using a TOW anti-tank missile.

Last night US President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande urged Russia and Turkey to avoid escalation of the crisis as the two leaders met in Washington.

The leaders said details about the incident were still are emerging.

"My top priority is going to be to ensure that this does not escalate," Mr Obama said alongside Mr Hollande at a White House news conference. "Hopefully, this is a moment in which all parties can step back and make a determination of how their interests are best served."

Mr Hollande said, "We must prevent an escalation. That would be extremely damaging."

US officials have said the plane was downed near Turkey's border and that Russia's entry into Turkish airspace lasted seconds.

"It's very important right now for us to make sure that both the Russians and the Turks are talking to each other to find out exactly what happened and take measures to discourage any kind of escalation," Mr Obama said.

Pro-Assad-regime media outlets appear to confirm the report that a rebel group had hit a Russian helicopter with a missile, suggesting that the helicopter has been forced to make an emergency landing in government-controlled Latakia.

It was previously reported that Russian helicopters were trying to access the location where the first fighter bomber had crashed.

If the strike is confirmed, the TOW missile was most likely supplied through the same US and Turkey-backed logistics programme that has reportedly been supplying Alwiya al-Ashar, a Turkmen militia.

The rebels' usage of these American-made TOW missiles has increased over 800pc since Russia began airstrikes against them at the end of September, slowing regime offensives across the country by destroying dozens of tanks and other armoured vehicles.

Military retaliation is almost certainly out of the question. Turkey is a Nato member state, and shooting down its jets in response would risk starting a third world war.

Instead, we may see air strikes against groups that Turkey supports on the ground - possibly including the Turkmen groups Ankara has already warned Russia against hitting.

There will also probably be a diplomatic response. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has reportedly cancelled a planned trip to Turkey, and one Russian MP has even called for the evacuation of Russian tourists from the country.

How far that goes, however, is up to Mr Putin, and so far he is keeping his cards close to his chest.

His spokesman said earlier that the Kremlin would not make "some kind of statements until we have a complete picture".

Turkey invoked Nato's article 4 after it shot down the Russian jet, triggering an emergency discussion with the rest of the alliance that took place yesterday.

Under the article in Nato's founding document: "The parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened."

The article was rarely invoked for years and its use has been seen as a strong political symbol that Nato is worried about the situation.

Irish Independent

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