UN chief calls for de-escalation of tensions after Russian plane shot down
The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, November 24, 2015 7:29AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 24, 2015 1:43PM EST
BEIRUT -- The latest on the Russian warplane shot down by Turkey on Tuesday (All times local):
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging all parties to take urgent measures to de-escalate tensions following Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter jet.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the secretary-general believes Tuesday's "worrying developments" underscore the importance of international unity and co-operation against violent extremists in the region as well as the urgent need to find a solution to the Syrian conflict.
Dujarric said the UN chief hopes that "a credible and thorough review of the incident will clarify the events and help to prevent future recurrences."
Ban reiterated his appeal to all those involved in military action in Syria, especially the air campaigns, "to maximize operational measures" to protect civilians and avoid civilian casualties.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkish F-16s shot down the Russian plane in line with Turkey's rules of engagement and insists Turkey does not harbour "enmity" toward Russia or any other nation.
Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkish level-headedness had prevented even graver incidents at the border.
The Turkish leader criticized Russian actions in the Turkmen regions, saying there were no Islamic State group fighters in the area.
He said Turkey would continue to support the Turkmen community in Syria.
Erdogan was speaking at a function at his palace after chairing a security meeting to discuss the downing of the plane.
Turkey says that two planes violated Turkish airspace before it shot down one of them, which crashed in Syrian territory.
In a letter to the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, it said the jet it shot down disregarded 10 warnings to change course.
The letter from Turkey's UN Ambassador Halit Cevik said "two SU-24 planes, the nationality of which are unknown," approached Turkish airspace in the Yayladagi-Hatay region.
The letter, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, said both planes, at an altitude of 19,000 feet, disregarded warnings and violated Turkish airspace "to a depth of 1.36 miles and 1.15 miles in length for 17 seconds" just after 9:24 a.m.
"Following the violation, plane one left Turkish national airspace," the letter said. "Plane two was fired at while in Turkish national airspace by Turkish F-16s performing air combat patrolling in that area in accordance with the rules of engagement."
It said the second plane crashed on the Syrian side of the border.
Russia's military says that a helicopter that was searching for the crew of a shot-down warplane in Syria was shot down by rebel fire and one serviceman was killed.
A spokesman for the general staff, Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying Tuesday that the Mi-8 chopper was one of two taking part in the search operation. The rest of its crew were evacuated and taken back to the air base used by Russia in Syria.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says has called on all parties to be prudent and to contribute to reducing tensions after Turkey downed a Russian jet it says violated its airspace.
Stoltenberg says the situation is serious, but that he hopes for renewed contacts between Turkey and Russia.
He said the assessments of other NATO members supported the Turkish version of events.
Stoltenberg spoke after an extraordinary meeting of NATO's decision-making North Atlantic Council, called at Turkey's request so Turkey could inform its allies about its downing of a Russian warplane earlier in day.
NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero added that "NATO is monitoring the situation closely" and are in close contact with Turkish authorities.
A U.S. defence official in Washington and a NATO diplomat say the Russian plane entered Turkish airspace before Turkey shot it down.
The U.S. official said the Russian plane flew across a 2-mile section of Turkish airspace, meaning it was in Turkish airspace only for a matter of seconds. The official said it was in the sliver of Turkish territory that juts down near the juncture of Idlib and Latakia provinces.
The NATO diplomat said the Turks have reported two separate violations of their airspace, including one that lasted 17 seconds.
The diplomat said the Turks had played the warning messages they sent to the Russians in a closed-door meeting of NATO's North Atlantic Council and that they sent 21 warnings in five minutes.
The diplomat said authorities in Ankara had one-on-one contacts with the Russians to stress how seriously they took the matter after previous Russian intrusions into Turkish skies last month, and that "clearly the Russians had been disrespecting the rules of the game and sovereign air territory."
Both the U.S. official and the NATO diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details about the case.
-By Robert Burns in Washington and John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels.
Russia's Defence Ministry has summoned Turkey's military attache in Moscow for an official protest.
The ministry says the attache was presented with a statement calling the downing of a Russian warplane an "unfriendly action" and reiterating Russian officials' contention that the downed plane had not violated Turkish airspace.
The ministry also complained that attempts to organize emergency co-operation with Turkey in the incident were unsuccessful.
The ministry is "developing measures to react to such incidents," the ministry statement said without elaborating.
A U.S. military spokesman says the U.S. heard communication between Turkish and Russian pilots before Turkey shot down the Russian plane.
Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday that the U.S. military was "able to hear everything that was going on."
Asked whether he could confirm that Turkish pilots issued 10 verbal warnings to the Russian pilots and that the Russians did not respond, Warren said, "Yes." He did not elaborate.
Asked whether the U.S. could determine from radar images whether the Russian plane had entered Turkish airspace, Warren said the U.S. was still gathering information.
Warren said: "We need a little time to work all that out."
He said it was not immediately clear on which side of the border the Russian planes were flying.
A NATO official says the alliance has opened an extraordinary meeting on Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter jet.
The official, who was not authorized to make public statements and spoke on condition of anonymity, said NATO's decision-making North Atlantic Council convened at around 5:25 p.m. (1625 GMT) Tuesday, about a half-hour later than scheduled.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg was expected to make a statement following the meeting, which was called at Turkey's request.
Turkey says the Russian plane violated Turkish airspace and repeatedly ignored Turkish warnings to leave. Moscow says the plane was inside Syria when it was shot down.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has convened a security meeting following Turkey's downing of a Russian plane.
Erdogan is meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as well as Turkey's military and intelligence chiefs on Tuesday.
Turkey says the Russian plane violated Turkish airspace and repeatedly ignored Turkish warnings to leave. Moscow says the plane was inside Syria when it was shot down.
Syrian rebels and activists say they have targeted and destroyed a Russian-made chopper operated by the Syrian army near the area where a Russian warplane was downed by Turkey.
A rebel spokesman, Zakaria al-Ahmad, says the chopper was flying low over mountains in Latakia province, allegedly searching for the missing Russian pilots.
Rebels fired a Tao missile Tuesday that destroyed the helicopter after it landed and its pilots had left the aircraft.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the chopper made an emergency landing in the area and its pilots ejected before the aircraft was hit. It was not clear why it made an emergency landing.
Turkey's private Dogan news agency is quoting a Turkmen commander as saying Turkey brought down the Russian plane after it had dropped a bomb in a Turkmen region of Syria and entered Turkish airspace.
The fighter, who was identified as Alpaslan Celik, the second-in-command of the Turkmen Coastal Division, said the Turkmen forces had re-captured a Turkmen mountain region from Syrian forces.
Celik also said the rebels shot and killed both Russian pilots who parachuted from the plane after it was shot down.
The rebels had previously said they killed one of the two pilots and were searching for the second one. The AP couldn't immediately confirm the claim that both pilots were dead.
Dogan said Celik spoke to a group of Turkish journalists in the Turkmen region. A group of fighters could be seen in the background shouting "Allahu Akbar" and firing into the sky with machine-guns as Celik made the announcement.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has cancelled a planned trip to Turkey in the wake of the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey.
The meeting between Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart had been scheduled for Wednesday.
Lavrov was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying that President Vladimir Putin "directly said that (the downing) cannot but affect Russian-Turkish relations. In this regard, it decided to cancel the meeting, which was planned for tomorrow."
Syria's Information Minister says the shooting down of a Russian warplane is a "new crime" that will be added to the record of insurgent groups and the countries that finance and arm them.
Omran al-Zoubi specified Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- countries that have been among the strongest backers of insurgent groups trying to remove President Bashar Assad from power.
Turkey shot down a Russian warplane Tuesday, accusing it of violating Turkish airspace. Moscow says the plane was inside Syria when it was shot down.
One of Russia's largest travel agencies says it will suspend selling package tours to Turkey as of Wednesday, citing security concerns.
Natali Tours said in a statement Tuesday its offices in Russia and former Soviet republics would stop sending tourists to Turkey due to "an unstable political situation."
It also cited Putin's decree that suspended flights earlier this month to Egypt on security concerns in the aftermath of the Oct. 31 plane crash over the Sinai peninsula.
Nearly 4.5 million Russians visited Turkey last year, 12 per cent of all tourists there, second only to Germany.
Czech leaders say a lack of a common strategy and proper co-operation of all the players involved in the Syrian conflict are to blame for the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey.
Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek says: "Because there's not a clear agreement of the international community on a common strategy and because the enemy is not clearly defined, everyone fights a war in their own interest and we can end up fighting each other."
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka echoed that Tuesday calling it "an unpleasant surprise which shows there's still no good co-ordination among the players in the region." Sobotka says the incident shows a necessity of an international deal and better direct communication among those whose armed forces fight in the region.
Czech President Milos Zeman says he considers the Turkish action "a too radical move which only increases the tension in the region."
Dozens of people have gathered outside the Russian Consulate in Istanbul to protest Russian operations in Turkmen regions of Syria.
The protesters gathered on Tuesday, shortly after Turkey shot down a Russian plane that it said violated Turkish airspace and ignored repeated warnings for it to leave. The plane was operating over the Turkmen Mountain region in Syria's Latakia province.
The protesters chanted: "Turkmen brothers are not alone" and "Killer Russia, get out of Syria."
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has defended Turkey's shooting down of a Russian fighter jet at the border with Syria, saying Turkey has the right "to take all kinds of measures" against border violations according to international laws.
Davutoglu said Tuesday Turkey will not hesitate to take all steps to protect the country's security, calling it Turkey's "national duty." He stressed that the action did not amount to an aggression against any foreign territory.
Davutoglu also called on the international community to work toward "extinguishing the fire that is burning in Syria."
Turkey said it shot down the Russian plane after it violated Turkish airspace and ignored repeated warnings.
A spokesman for the rebel group that captured a Russian pilot whose plane was shot down by Turkey says rebels are conducting search operations in the area to find the second crew member.
Jahed Ahmad of the 10th Brigade in the Coast, a group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, said his group would consider exchanging the body of the Russian pilot they are holding with prisoners held by the Syrian government.
Ahmad said on Tuesday about the Russian pilot: "This is the body of a Russian member of the military who was killing Syrian people."
He added: "We have the body and we will see what to do with it."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Turkey's decision to down a Russian warplane near the Syria border a "stab in the back."
Speaking at a meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah II, Putin on Tuesday accepted his condolences on the death of a Russian pilot who was reportedly captured and dead.
Putin said the Russian Su-24 jet was shot by a missile from a Turkish jet over Syria about 1 kilometre (just over a half-mile) away from the Turkish border, which he described as a "stab in the back by the terrorists' accomplices."
Putin warned that the incident would have "significant consequences" for its relations with Turkey and criticized Ankara for turning to NATO to discuss the incident instead of first explaining to Russia what happened.
Defence analysts say Russia seems to be responding cautiously to the downing of one of its warplanes on the Turkey-Syria border.
Natasha Kuhrt, lecturer in International Peace and Security at King's College London, said Russian television reports "have mainly been blaming the anti-Assad rebels inside Syria, and not mentioning Turkey at all. The general thrust is to try to play down this incident."
"Relations have been very strained between Russia and Turkey of late so Moscow will be trying its utmost to contain the damage this might cause," she said.
Shashank Joshi of defencethink-tank the Royal United Services Institute said the large number of nations in the air over Syria had led to a dangerous and unpredictable situation.
He said there would be intense diplomatic efforts to defuse the situation, but the combination of crowded airspace, Russian probing of Turkey's border and diplomatic tensions between Moscow and Istanbul created a "real toxic cocktail that can easily erupt into crisis."
NATO will hold an emergency meeting after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet along the Syrian border that Ankara said had violated its airspace.
Tuesday's meeting of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's main decision-making body, will be held at Turkey's request, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements.
The council, composed of ambassadors from the United States and NATO's 27 other member countries, will convene at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT)
The official said "the aim of this extraordinary NAC meeting is for Turkey to inform allies about the downing of a Russian airplane."
On Oct. 5, following two earlier Russian violations of Turkish airspace reported by Turkey, the NAC accused Russia of "irresponsible behaviour," and sternly warned Moscow it was courting "extreme danger" by sending its warplanes into the skies of an alliance member country.
-- John-Thor Dahlburg
A spokesman for the rebel group that captured a Russian pilot whose plane was shot down over northwestern Syria says he was dead upon landing.
Jahed Ahmad of the 10th Brigade in the Coast tells The Associated Press that the two Russian crew members tried to land in their parachutes in government-held areas after they ejected, but came under fire from members of his group.
He adds that rebels shot one of the pilots, who landed dead on the ground on Tuesday.
The fate of the second pilot was not immediately known.
The group released a video showing gunmen standing around a blond pilot whose face was bruised and appeared dead.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has approved a new government led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu following the ruling party's victory in Turkey's Nov. 1 election.
Erdogan approved a Cabinet list presented by Davutoglu on Tuesday, hours after Turkey shot down a Russian plane it said violated its airspace and ignored repeated warnings.
The ruling party regained the parliamentary majority it had lost in a June vote. The Nov. 1 election was a re-run called by Erdogan after Davutoglu's efforts for a coalition government failed.
Davutoglu was heading an interim government that was appointed to take Turkey to November vote.
A video has surfaced purporting to show a Russian pilot wounded and immobile after Turkey shot down a Russian plane along the Syrian border, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace.
The video posted Monday shows armed rebels gathered around the soldier lying on his back on the ground with bruises and blood on his face. It was not immediately clear if he was dead.
A voice on the video is heard saying "a Russian pilot," while another says: "The 10th Division has captured a Russian pilot, God is greatest."
Turkey said the plane had ignored repeated warnings. Russia denied that the plane crossed the Syrian border into Turkish skies.