Updated Nov. 24, 8:20am ET
This morning, Turkey said it shot down a Russian fighter jet which violated its airspace near the border with Syria. But controversy surrounds where exactly the plane was, and what caused it to crash.
The Turkish military said in a statement that the jet had been warned it was straying into Turkish airspace “ten times in five minutes,” before two of its own F-16 planes brought it down just before 9:30am local time, according to Turkish media. They later shared a map of the radar record which appears to show the jet entering and leaving Turkish air space.
But the Russian ministry of defense said its Su-24 fighter jet was in Syrian airspace. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said: “We know for sure that the aircraft was in Syrian airspace, over the territory of Syria,” but he added that it would be wrong to make any “assumptions” about what had happened until more was known about the incident.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, appeared on state-owned television channel Rossiya 24 to denounce the downing of the jet as ”a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists,” the BBC reported. He added that the incident would have ”significant consequences,” including for Russian-Turkish relations. Russia’s foreign minister had been due to visit Turkey tomorrow to talk about the situation in Syria, but cancelled the visit, according to Reuters.
Russia also said earlier in the day that the plane had been shot down from the ground, according to Russian media. The pilots managed to eject from the plane before it crashed, according to the Russian ministry of defense. But a Syrian rebel group said that at least one of the men was dead. AP quoted a fighter called Jahen Ahmad who said members of his group had fired on the men.
Footage was posted on a YouTube channel called Maara Media Centre purporting to show the body of one of the Russian pilots. The footage has not been verified, but one weapons expert noted that there were several matches between the uniform and equipment seen on the body, and those of the Russian forces in the area.
Russia has been conducting airstrikes against targets in Syria since September, in support of embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Photos and video footage purport to show the jet catching fire and plunging into a wooded area that is reportedly in the Syrian province of Latakia. Flames and smoke can be seen billowing from the aircraft before it crashes behind a wooded ridge. Moments later, a large, dark cloud of smoke rises from behind the trees.
Turkey, a NATO member, had already warned Russia about violating its airspace on previous occasions. “The Turkish armed forces are clearly instructed,” Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last month. “Even it is a flying bird it will be intercepted.”
Turkey shares a long land border with Syria, where an increasingly complicated and devastating civil war has been raging since 2011. Turkey opposes any transition of power in Syria that involves Assad, whom Russia supports.
The Turkish and Russian stock markets fell sharply on news of the incident: