Putin says Turkey's downing of Russian jet a 'planned provocation'
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says that Turkey's downing of a Russian aircraft yesterday was a "planned provocation" but that there will be no military response.
Russia also announced that it was sending its most sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system to Syria.
The two countries have exchanged heated words in the last 24 hours with President Erdogan, accusing the Russians of "deceit" in claiming they did not violate Turkey's air space and Putin calling the shootdown a "stab in the back" carried out by accomplices to terrorism.
The incident has served to put a hair trigger on a volatile situation. Russia has continuously violated Turkey's air space since air operations began in support of President Assad. It appears now that Turkey will have no more of it, which puts the two countries on a collision course.
Lavrov’s comments offered the clearest signals that Moscow views the downing as more than an accidental mishap while Russia steps up its airstrikes in Syria to support the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey and its Western allies have backed rebel groups seeking to topple Assad in Syria’s nearly five-year civil war. Pentagon officials, meanwhile, have raised worries about possible mishaps between Russia’s air campaign and a U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State.
“We have serious doubts this was an unintended incident and believe this is a planned provocation,” Lavrov said after discussions with Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu. Lavrov did not elaborate on Moscow’s claims.
Earlier, Russian officials said one of two Russian pilots shot down has been rescued following the first downing of one of its planes by a NATO ally since the Cold War. The other airman was killed “in a savage way” by militiamen, claimed Russia’s ambassador to France, Alexandre Orlov.
During the search-and-rescue mission, a Russian Mi-8 helicopter was blown up apparently by an anti-tank missile fired by Syrian rebels, killing one Russian marine. It marked the first confirmed deaths of Russian soldiers in combat in Syria.
In a show of Russia’s deepening military involvement, it plans to deploy powerful S-400 anti-missile systems to Russia’s Khmeimim airbase in northwestern Syria. The batteries — with a range of 250 miles — has the potential to create headaches for Turkish and other aircraft in the U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State.
Putin has been humbled by this incident, but unless he is totally irrational, he will swallow his pride and move on. The last thing Putin wants is a shooting war against a member of NATO.
If there is a response by the Russians, it might take the form of increased targeting of Turkish-backed rebels in Syria. The Russians could also resume bombing Turkman villages along the Syrian-Turkish border. The Turkmen are kinsmen to the Turks, and Ankara has protested Russian targeting of the villages.
If the incident teaches us anything, it's that too many warplanes from too many countries are buzzing around Syria and that a repeat of this incident is not out of the question.