THE downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish military has shocked the world, but according to the government forces that took aim at them, Russia should have seen it coming.
Tensions have been boiling between the two nations over military action in Syria, where both countries are targeting Islamic State, however Russia’s repeated “invasion” of Turkish airspace has not helped to resolve the conflict.
It was back in August that anxiety was first raised, when Russian warplanes began flying over Syria to conduct bombing raids. By early October, the bordering nation of Turkey was issuing stern warnings.
Russian fighter jets entered Turkish air space in two separate incidents last month, prompting Turkish government officials in Ankara to summon the Russian ambassador twice to protest violations. Also in October, Turkish jets shot down an unidentified drone that had also violated Turkey’s airspace.
The Turkish military has today released a flight tracking map that it claims proves the SU-24 fighter jet had invaded its airspace, and defended its downing by two F-16 warplanes.
Though Russian President Vladimir Putin has branded the act a war crime and a “stab in the back” by “accomplices of terrorists”, Turkey’s US allies have condoned the act, with President Barack Obama agreeing Turkey “has the right to defend its territory and its airspace”.
Turkey claims the Russian jet violated its airspace 10 times within a five-minute period before it opened fire, with a Pentagon spokesman confirming the Russian pilots were warned.
Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the US military in Baghdad, told reporters the US military was “able to hear everything that was going on.”
Asked whether he could confirm that Turkish pilots issued 10 verbal warnings to the Russian pilots and that the Russians did not respond, Warren said: “Yes”.
Russia denied the plane crossed the Syrian border into Turkish skies.
A recent history of military tensions came to a head on Tuesday when the Russian warplane was shot down and at least one of two pilots was killed by gunfire from the ground as he was ejected from the aircraft, Moscow has said. A Russian soldier was also killed when a helicopter search-and-rescue operation came under fire and the second pilot is considered missing.
Shocking footage has emerged purporting to show rebels firing at the Russian pilots as they parachuted from the wrecked jet.
The incident comes as Russian and Syrian jets wage a heavy bombing campaign against targets in northern Syria while the US-led coalition continues its own air strikes.
Turkey has expressed anger at the operation, saying it is aimed at buttressing the Assad regime and has displaced thousands of Turkmen Syrians, an ethnic minority in the area and strong allies of Ankara.
Turkey and Russia have long been at loggerheads over the Syrian conflict, with Ankara seeking Assad’s overthrow while Moscow does everything to keep him in power.
Russia however insists its strikes are aimed against IS.
At Ankara’s request, NATO allies will hold an “extraordinary” meeting to discuss the incident.
The incident has left the world on edge with fears a major conflict is brewing.
Putin has warned: “The tragic event will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations”.
In his first official reaction to the downing of the war plane, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: Everyone must respect the right of Turkey to protect its borders”.