The Russian Su-24 all-weather jet, which was on a bombing mission, was shot down by Turkish F-16s along the Turkey-Syria border and crashed on the Syrian side on Tuesday. The jet was flying at an altitude of nearly 20,000 feet when it was hit by an air-to-air missile.
This is the first time a Russian aircraft was shot down by a NATO member since 1952, when there was a clash between US and Soviet jets over the Sea of Japan.
Footage from Turkish media showed the Su-24’s two-man crew had ejected. A Turkmen rebel group fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad fired at the pilots and one of them was dead when he landed on the ground.
The second Russian crew member was rescued after a 12-hour operation by Syrian and Russian special forces.
A Russian marine was killed during a rescue mission when an Mi-8 helicopter came under fire.
The positions taken by Turkey and Russia
Turkey’s envoy to the UN, Halit Cevik, said two unidentified jets were warned 10 times within five minutes and asked to change direction. The jets disregarded the warnings and flew about 2 km into Turkey for 17 seconds before they were targeted, he said. US officials backed Turkish claims about the violation of airspace but said the Su-24 was hit inside Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Su-24 was 1 km inside Syria when it was hit and crashed 4 km from the border. Russia’s defence ministry said the Su-24 had remained within Syria and not violated Turkish airspace.
The downing of the Su-24 has triggered fears of a Cold War-like situation because Russia and Turkey are backing opposing sides in the Syrian civil war. Russia is a staunch ally of Assad and its air strikes have targeted rebels who are opposed to the President. Turkey wants the ouster of Assad and has been accused of backing Syrian rebels, including some regarded as terrorists by the West.
Putin warned the incident will have “significant consequences” for Turkey, describing the downing of the Su-24 as “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists”.
Russia has broken off military contacts with Turkey and announced fighters will escort its bombers during air strikes over Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled a trip to Ankara on Wednesday and warned Russians against visiting Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned no one should expect Ankara “to remain silent” when its border security is violated as Turkey sought an emergency meeting of NATO.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg called for “calm and de-escalation” and said the grouping stands in “solidarity with Turkey”. US President Barack Obama called for end to “escalation” and said the nature of Russia’s air strikes were to blame for the incident because they were targeting moderate groups instead of the IS.
Russian war planes heavily bombarded areas near the site where the Russian Su-24 came down on Tuesday.
(With inputs from agencies)