Thursday 22 August 2019

Russia-Turkey row over downed warplane escalates

Photos of a pilot and a sailor killed in the jet incident are placed at a monument to Soviet Officers with flowers and paper jet outside Russian Army General Staff headquarters in Moscow (AP)
Photos of a pilot and a sailor killed in the jet incident are placed at a monument to Soviet Officers with flowers and paper jet outside Russian Army General Staff headquarters in Moscow (AP)
Vladimir Putin said Turkey has still not apologised for shooting down a Russian warplane
Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu has sought to reduce tensions with Moscow (AP)

A row over a Russian warplane shot down near the Syrian border has escalated, with Moscow planning economic sanctions against Turkey and the Turkish president saying his military would do the same if faced with another air intrusion.

Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24 military jet on Tuesday, insisting it had violated its airspace despite repeated warnings.

The incident marked the first time in half a century when a Nato member shot down a Russian plane, raising the threat of a military confrontation between the alliance and Moscow.

Russian president Vladimir Putin denounced the Turkish action as a "treacherous stab in the back," and insisted that the plane was shot down over the Syrian territory in violation of the international law.

He said in the Kremlin: "Until that moment, we haven't heard a clear apology from Turkey's top political leadership, or an offer to compensate for the damage or a promise to punish the criminals who committed that crime.

"It gives an impression that the Turkish leadership is deliberately driving the Russian-Turkish relations into a deadlock, and we regret that."

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in no mood to apologise, and warned that Ankara would act in the same way in case of another intrusion.

He added: "It's the country that carried out the violation which should question itself and take measures to prevent it from happening again, not the country that was subjected to a violation."

Mr Erdogan said Turkey had not specifically targeted Russia when it shot down the plane, saying it was "an automatic response" in line with its rules of engagement.

Turkey has released audio recordings of what it says are the Turkish military's repeated warnings to the pilot of the Russian plane - audio that grows increasingly more agitated.

The recordings indicate the plane was warned several times that it was approaching Turkey's airspace and was asked to change course, but there is no indication of a Russian reply.

In the recordings, a voice is heard saying in broken English: "This is Turkish Air Force speaking on guard. You are approaching Turkish airspace. Change your heading south immediately."

Most of the audio is garbled and barely comprehensible, but the tone of the voice gets more agitated as the warnings appear to go unnoticed.

A Russian airman who survived the incident and was later rescued by the Syrian and Russian commando denied veering into Turkey's airspace "even for a single second".

Turkey insists the plane was in its airspace for 17 seconds.

Capt Konstantin Murakhtin said he and his crewmate, who was killed by ground fire after bailing out, had not heard any Turkish warnings.

The Russian foreign ministry dismissed the audio recording released by Ankara as a fake.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also urged Turkey to speak up about the rebels who killed the pilot.

"Either confirm that these are the people that you defend, then we will finally see what this moderate opposition is. Or say that you don't have anything to do with it and express your position about their actions," she said.

Mr Erdogan accused Russia of using its declared goal to fight Islamic State (IS) in Syria as a pretext to target opposition groups, including the Turkmen, in order to shore up Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Mr Putin responded to the plane's downing by ordering the deployment of powerful long-range air defence missiles to a Russian air base in Syria.

In addition to the military moves, the Kremlin also acted to inflict economic pain on Turkey. Russia has already restricted tourism, left Turkish trucks stranded at the border and announced the confiscation of large quantities of Turkish food imports.

The Russian leader harshly criticised the US for its failure to prevent Nato ally Turkey from shooting down the jet.

Mr Putin held the US responsible for failing to rein in its ally, saying that Russia had informed the US about its military flights in advance in line with a recent agreement between Moscow and Washington aimed at preventing clashes between their aircraft.

As the leader of the anti-IS coalition, the US should have made sure that the Russian warplanes are not targeted by its members, Mr Putin said.

"We proceed from the assumption that it will never happen again," he said.

"Otherwise we don't need any such co-operation with any country."

He denounced the Turkish action, saying it "thoughtlessly and rudely" destroyed friendly ties between the two countries.

Mr Putin added that from now on Russia will protect its warplanes with the long-range S-400 air defence missiles deployed at its air base in Syria.

The military will also be sending fighter jets to escort bombers over Syria, and will use electronic countermeasures and other means to prevent any hostile action in the future, he said.

PA Media

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