After Plane Downed, Russians Up Air Defenses Near Syrian-Turkish Border

Russians to send the 'Moskva' cruiser, equipped with air defense systems much like the infamous S-300 system, to area near Syria's maritime border with Turkey.

The 'Moksva' cruiser. Russia announced it was sending the war ship to the Latakia area of Syria after Turkey downs a Russian jet it claimed had entered its airspace.
Handout / Russian Armed Force

Russia responded harshly to the downing of its fighter jet over Turkey on Tuesday, announcing it will move an advanced defense system to a Syrian port not far from the fractured country's northern maritime border with Turkey.

In a briefing by a senior official in the Russian army Tuesday night, Moscow announced plans to reinforce air their defenses in Syria and announced that the Russian navy is sending a cruiser - the “Moksva” - equipped with air defense systems similar to the S-300 systems to the area near Syria's coastal city of Latakia. According to the official, Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, all potentially dangerous targets will be destroyed.

The Russian Defense Ministry added that it was suspending military coordination with Turkey in response to the incident.

Turkey said it had shot down the jet while it was in Turkish air space, a claim the Russians deny, in one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a NATO member country and Russia for half a century.

Along with a second plane, the aircraft had flown more than a mile into Turkey for 17 seconds, despite being warned 10 times in five minutes while approaching to change direction, a Turkish letter to the UN Security Council claimed.

A still from a video showing a plane falling in flames near the Turkish-Syrian border.
Screenshot

The Russian Defense Ministry conveyed a “formal protest” Tuesday night to the Turkish military attaché in Moscow in light of the events. A statement noted that Russia was now examining “a package of responses to incidents of this kind” and that Moscow viewed the incident as an “unfriendly step.” On the other side, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Ankara to discuss the incident.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane had been attacked when it was 1 km (0.62 mile) inside Syria and warned of "serious consequences" for what he termed a stab in the back administered by "the accomplices of terrorists".

"We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today," Putin said, as Russian and Turkish shares fell on fears of an escalation between the former Cold War enemies.

In condemnation of Russian air strikes in Syria, during which Turkish air space has been violated several times in recent weeks, Erdogan said that only Turkey's "cool-headedness" had prevented worse incidents in the past.

Footage from private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV showed the warplane going down in flames, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it as it crashed in a wooded part of an area the TV said was known by Turks as "Turkmen Mountain".

The downing of a Russian jet that penetrated Turkish air space, Nov 24, 2015

Separate footage from Turkey's Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed.

A deputy commander of rebel Turkmen forces in Syria said his men shot both pilots dead as they came down. The Russian military confirmed one pilot had been shot dead from the ground and another soldier died during a rescue operation.

A senior Turkish official said at least one of the pilots could still be alive. "It's not a fact but a possibility. We're trying to verify the information and taking all necessary steps to facilitate their return," the official said.

A video sent to Reuters earlier appeared to show one of the pilots immobile and badly wounded on the ground.

Russia's defense ministry said one of its Su-24 fighter jets had been downed in Syria and that "for the entire duration of the flight, the aircraft was exclusively over Syrian territory", a suggestion Turkey denied.

"The data we have is very clear. There were two planes approaching our border, we warned them as they were getting too close," another senior Turkish official told Reuters. "Our findings show clearly that Turkish air space was violated multiple times. And they violated it knowingly."

A U.S. military spokesman said it was an issue between the Turkish and Russian governments and that U.S.-led coalition operations in Syria and Iraq were continuing "as planned".

A U.S. official said U.S. forces were not involved in the downing of the Russian jet, which was the first time a Russian or Soviet military aircraft has been publicly acknowledged to have been shot down by a NATO member since the 1950s.

The incident appeared to scupper hopes of a rapprochement between Russia and the West in the wake of the Islamic State attacks in Paris, which had led to calls for a united front against the jihadist group in Syria.

Moscow's decision to launch separate air strikes in Syria means Russian and NATO planes have been flying combat missions in the same air space for the first time since World War Two, targeting various insurgent groups close to Turkish borders.

Earlier Tuesday, the media in Russia reported that the Russian government's tourist agency had advised all travel agents in the country to suspend the marketing of vacation packages to Turkey. At the same time, Natalie Tours, one of the largest tourism companies in Russia and the former Soviet republics, announced that it was immediately ceasing the marketing of such vacations.