Yesterday, a Russian SU-24, a knock-off of the now retired F-111, was shot down over Turkey. The details are unclear. Russia is claiming it was moping along over Syria, minding its own business, and was shot down by ground fire. The Turks tell a different story:
A Turkish military statement said the plane entered Turkish airspace over the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province.
“On Nov. 24, 2015 at around 09.20 a.m, a plane whose nationality is not known violated the Turkish airspace despite several warnings (10 times within five minutes) in the area of Yayladagi, Hatary,” the military said before the plane’s nationality was confirmed.
“Two F-16 planes on aerial patrol duty in the area intervened against the plane in question in accordance with the rules of engagement at 09.24 a.m.”
It said the plane was warned 10 times within the space of 5 minutes.
This is hardly a surprise. The Russians have been rather blatant about treating Turkish airspace as their own. And back in October, a Turk F-16 shot down a Russian drone. The pressure point is the area of Syria peopled by Turkmen, ethnic Turks, particularly that area of Syria bordering Turkey. As is so common in that area of the world and in Eastern Europe, ethnic minorities in unfriendly countries often look to their “motherland” for inspiration and protection.
The Turkmen are allied with the Free Syria Army in fighting ISIS, which explains why they are being drubbed by Russian aircraft. And they are now, according to reports, in possession of one of the Russian pilots.
Parachutes were seen deploying from the flaming mass of metal, which was all that remained of a Russian Su-24 fighter jet, after Turkey shot the plane down Tuesday. Two pilots reportedly ejected from the jet on the border between Syria and Turkey.
Russia has launched a search and rescue operation for the pilots, but their fate may already be decided. One pilot was reportedly killed in the Syrian countryside and a Syrian rebel group has claimed to have captured the other. Two videos were released separately Tuesday morning from different Syrian rebel groups claiming to have the pilots in their custody.
Video of the alleged capture is below. The fact that the pilot was still in the parachute, knowing he was behind enemy lines, indicates either a very low state of training (this is Russia, after all) or that he was injured during ejection, a common enough happening even in competent air forces.
NATO is holding an emergency meeting on the incident today. Putin is not pleased:
- “The loss today is a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists. I can’t describe it in any other way.”
- “Our aircraft was downed over the territory of Syria, using air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16. It fell on the Syrian territory 4km from Turkey.”
- “Neither our pilots nor our jet threatened the territory of Turkey.”
- “Today’s tragic event will have significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations … Instead of immediately getting in contact with us, as far as we know, the Turkish side immediately turned to their partners from Nato to discuss this incident, as if we shot down their plane and not they ours.”
- “Do they want to make Nato serve ISIS? … We hope that the international community will find the strength to come together and fight against the common evil.”
Mendacity, thy name is Vladimir.
The Russian expedition has nothing to do with fighting ISIS and everything to do with helping Assad destroy the non-ISIS rebel factions, to the extent one can tell them apart. And it has been an exercise in humiliating Obama and showing US allies that Russia is the go-to power now. How he will react to losing an aircraft is uncertain. The Russian airplane was a deliberate trolling of Ankara. Turkey has dropped Syrian helicopters and warplanes operating against the Turkmen fairly regularly. The Russians were flying strikes in areas where the Syrians are afraid to go and daring Ankara to respond.
That the Turks were willing to shoot a Russian warplane down is a clear signal that they are serious about protecting the Turkmen population from Russian airstrikes. Russia has limited tools available to it. The Russian force in Syria is completely dependent upon Turkish good will for the air corridor that keeps it supplied. So everyone has a vested interest in making this incident go away. The Russians will fume and fulminate but will probably not let this happen again. Unless the “rebels” decided to roast their captive Ivan for a YouTube video then all bets are off.
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