Moscow accuses Ankara and Nato of covering up "planned" jet attack

Moscow accuses Ankara and Nato of covering up
By bne IntelliNews November 25, 2015

Russia on November 25 intensified pressure on Turkey over the downing of one of its warplanes a day earlier near the Syrian border, accusing Ankara of plotting a deliberate provocation.  

The attack on the Su-24M plane looked "planned", Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a press briefing in Moscow. Lavrov disputed Ankara's claim that the Turkish pilots did not know the identity of the Russian aircraft and fired on it only after issuing multiple warnings and after it entered Turkey’s airspace for 17 seconds.

"We have serious doubts that it was unintentional, it looks like a planned provocation," Lavrov said, adding that some Russian partners are calling the downing incident "an obvious ambush".

After the two pilots ejected from the stricken bomber, one was killed by rebel ground fire while the other escaped and linked up with Syrian army troop who brought him to safety at the Russian base at Latakia.

Lavrov also said statements made after the incident by Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg supporting Turkey were inconsistent and increased Russian suspicions regarding the circumstances. "These assessments contained no regret or condolences but were aimed at covering up what the Turkish Air Force had done. The same response came from the EU," Lavrov said.

The attack, which marks the first between Nato and Russian/Soviet military in over forty years, has shaken earlier optimism of closer cooperation between the West and Russia against terrorism and the Islamic State (IS) guerillas following the November 13 attacks in Paris. It also ratchets up tensions between Russia and Turkey, which Moscow accuses of oil trading with the IS in Syria and actively supporting Islamist groups fighting there.

In his first reaction to the downing of the jet, Russian President Vladimir Putin called it a "stab in the back by accomplices of terrorists", and said these now appeared to have the assistance of a nation's [Turkey's] military.

Telling targets

Lavrov developed this theme that the allegedly close connections between the Turkish state and IS guerillas were the real reason behind the shooting down of Russia's jet: "Yesterday's attack by the Turkish Air Force against a Russian aircraft shows the situation with illegal oil trade and the underground oil industry which the IS has created in its territory in a new light. Yesterday's incident happened after Russian warplanes had started delivering quite effective and targeted strikes against those tank trucks and oil fields," Lavrov said.

Russia also reiterated that it believes it has every right to operate inside Syria. According to Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the Russian aircraft stayed in Syrian air space and was operating "in strict compliance with international law and, in this case, in strict compliance with the official request from the legitimate leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic". Russia will continue its anti-terrorist operation in Syria, including in areas close to the Turkish border, the spokesman added.

Following the incident, Putin ordered the deployment of sophisticated S-300 ground-to-air missiles to Syria to help safeguard further military air operations. "The S-300 air defense complex will be moved to our air base in Syria. I do hope that this and other measures that we will take will be enough to make flights safe," Putin told journalists during a visit to the Urals. Russia "will take the most serious attitude to what has happened and all of our means will be employed for maintaining security", the president added.

Speaking in Istanbul, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara did not want any escalation with Moscow over the incident, but he vowed to defend the country's borders. "Turkey never favours tensions and crisis, but no one should expect us to remain silent when our border security and our sovereignty are being violated," Erdogan said on November 25, reiterating that the Russian fighter jet was hit over Turkish territory.

Economic backlash

While Putin's spokesman and foreign minister emphasised that Russia would not respond with military action against Turkey, there were clear signs that Moscow will hit back economically. "This damage will be difficult to repair - its direct consequence may be the cessation of a number of important joint projects and the loss by Turkish companies of their positions on the Russian market," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned on November 25.

Russia's two leading travel agencies announced that they were suspending tours to Turkey, a favourite destination for Russian tourists. However, Ivanov said that his recommendation the previous day that holidaymakers avoid Turkey was not lashing out but was rather based on an assessment of security risks to visitors.

"As for the recommendations to our citizens not to visit Turkey, this is not revenge, this was not the off-the-cuff decision," he said. "We assessed the presence of the terrorist threat in Turkey without bias."

Lavrov said earlier that the terrorist threat in Turkey was "not less than in Egypt", where a terrorist bomb last month exploded in a Russian passenger jet carrying tourists to St Petersburg. All 224 people on board died.