It is the first serious incident between Russia and a NATO member State since the end of the Cold War. The Turks say they shot it down for having violated their airspace. The Russians deny it, and we would do well to accept the Kremlin version.
For once, we can say that the Russian version is the right one. Even if not true, we do well to believe it.
At the time of writing, the facts are still unclear, but one thing is certain. The statements in the heat of the Turkish authorities and the Russian ones are at odds with each other. But this, rather than being a conflictual element, appears to be a sensible step.
The news of the downing has spread simultaneously with a video by a Turkish TV and the statement of the General Staff in Ankara. The military announced that they had shot down a jet of unidentified nationality who had violated the Turkish airspace. The defense system would have alerted the jet at least ten times in five minutes, before sending their F-16 to shoot it down. Shortly after, the Interior and the Defense Ministry, confirmed the downing and announced to have referred to the NATO command.
The video released by Haber Turk television, showed the jet on fire as it crashed on the hills. The silhouette of a Su-24, just like those deployed by Russia in Syria, is easily spotted.
After long minutes of silence by the Russian media and official sources, the Ministry of Defense has confirmed that the downed jet is a Russian Su-24, just before denying that it has violated the Turkish airspace. According to the Russians, the Su-24 was shot from the ground (and not by the F-16, as said by the Turks), while flying at a height of 6,000 meters.
Saying that the Su-24 was shot in Syria with ground-to-airweapons, the Ministry of Defense seems to suggest the hypothesis that the Syrian rebels shot it down. A clue to deflect Turkish responsibility and avoid the military incident.
As always, however, the justification for the Russian is a little clumsy. It is well known that neither the Syrian rebels forces nor the ISIL (now called Daesh) have anti-aircraft weapons ranging 6,000 meters.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov immediately canceled the visit to Turkey scheduled for tomorrow, while Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has further cooled tempers by saying that as long as we don’t know the details of the incident, every comment is premature. Peskov also announced a speech by Putin on the incident.
Waiting to hear what the Russian president will say, we’d better to take to be true any stance that pushes away the casus belli.
Putin spoke, and the position of the Kremlin changes. He confirmed that the jet was downed by an air-to-air missile fired from a Turkish F-16 . But he also stressed that the downing took place in the Syrian airspace. He spoke of a blow in the back and of serious consequences for Russian relations with Turkey. Which leaves hope Russia continues to have relations with Turkey.