Uncertainty abounds in wake of Turkey’s downing of Russian jet
We know this much: a Russian Su-24 fighter plane was shot down Tuesday by the Turkish military near Turkey’s border with Syria.
Everything after that is unclear. And it’s an uncertain world – even more so than it was Monday night – that Canadians wake up to today.
The details of the incident itself are in dispute. But they are much less important than the potential implications, which will only become clear when Russian President Vladimir Putin makes his position fully known. Will he see this as an act of war by Turkey – which like Canada and the United States is a member of the NATO military alliance – against the Russian Federation?
And if so, what then?
The Kremlin said Tuesday that the shooting down of the Su-24 was a “very serious incident,” but that it was too early to draw conclusions. “It is just impossible to say something without having full information,” Mr. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow.
The crisis also leaves in question the international effort to combat Islamic State, just as France – another NATO ally – and Russia were jointly escalating efforts to destroy the group believed to be responsible for both the recent attacks on Paris and last month’s downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula.
Turkey claims the Su-24 entered Turkish airspace near the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province, and ignored 10 warnings in five minutes before it was shot down. “Two F-16 planes on aerial patrol duty in the area intervened against the plane in question in accordance with the rules of engagement,” the Turkish military said in a statement, adding that the plane had been shot down at 9:24 a.m. local time.
Ankara also released what it said was radar tracking of the warplane’s flight path, a red trail that briefly but clearly strayed into Turkish territory while circling over northwestern Syria.
But Russian Ministry of Defence quickly released a statement Tuesday saying the Su-24 never left Syrian airspace, where the Russian air force has been conducting bombing missions targeting Syrian rebel groups, trying to bolster the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a Kremlin ally.
“Today an aircraft from the Russian air group in the Syrian Arab Republic crashed on the territory of Syria supposedly shot down from the ground. The aircraft was flying at the altitude of 6,000 metres. The status of the Russian pilots is being defined,” read a statement posted on the Russian Ministry of Defence website hours after the crash, adding that “preliminary data” suggested the two pilots had managed to eject from the plane before it crashed.
“During all the flight time, the aircraft was flying only within the borders of the Syrian territory. That was registered by objective monitoring data.”
In contrast with the Turkish version of events, Russia indicated it believes its warplane was hit by fire from the ground.
Turkish private Dogan news agency reported that Russian military helicopters were scouring the Turkmen Mountain area Tuesday in an apparent effort to retrieve the pilots. The area is controlled by anti-Assad rebels that include both an ethnic Turkmen militia and the al-Nusra Front, the local affiliate of al-Qaeda. Turkmen are Syrians of Turkish descent.
Syrian rebels – who could be heard shouting “Allahu akbar!” – posted video Tuesday of what appeared to be a badly bloodied Russian soldier, apparently one of the pilots. It wasn’t clear which faction the rebels were part of, or how the pilot died.
The fate of the other Su-24’s other pilot was also uncertain. Video published by Turkish media showed smoke rising from a forested mountain – apparently Turkmen Mountain in Syria’s northwestern Latakia province – while two white shapes that appeared to
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