The downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber by Turkish jets near the border with Syria is a "stab in the back" from those abetting terrorism, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on November 24, hours after the incident in which one or both crewmen may have died.
"This goes beyond the war against terrorism," Putin said during a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, according to the Kremlin. "Today's loss is a stab in the back from the accomplices of terrorism. I can't qualify it differently."
The incident would have "grave consequences" for relations with Turkey, the Russian leader warned after the first ever shooting incident between a Nato member and post-Soviet Russia.
The two-seater tactical bomber was hit by a heatseeking missile from a Turkish warplane at an altitude of 6,000 metres as it was travelling 1km from the Turkish border, Putin said. The jet posed no threat to Turkish national security, and had been targeting terrorists in Syria's Latakia province, many of whom came from Russia, he noted.
"At all times, the Su-24 was exclusively over the territory of Syria," the Defence Ministry in Moscow also stressed in a Twitter posting. It added that the two pilots ejected from the plane, but lost contact with their base.
The Russian general staff said one member of the crew appreaed to have been killed by groundfire from rebel forces attempting to land by parachute. However, Turkmen rebels claimed that they killed two Russian pilots after they auto-ejected, Doğan news agency reported.
A Russian marine also died after a military helicopter was hit by mortar fire during a search operation for the missing pilots, aaccording to senior.military officials.
Turkish officials earlier confirmed two of the country's F-16 warplanes intercepted and shot down the the Su-24, which they said strayed into Turkish airspace near the Turkish-Syrian border in the province of Hatay. Turkey's military said its jets warned the Russian plane to leave 10 times in the course of five minutes before shooting it down at around 9.30am.
In a speech in Ankara, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had the right to respond if its airspace was violated despite repeated warnings. "The world should know that we would do whatever is necessary to defend our borders," he said.
Turkey had previously warned Russia against violating its airspace, after two previous incidents led to consultations with Nato.
The North Atlantic Council met in Brussels to discuss the downing of the jet. Calling for "calm and de-escalation", Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference that the information of the Allies supported Turkey's claim that the Russian jet violated its airspace.
Russia's ambassador to Nato Alexander Grushko said that Ankara was sheltering itself behind Nato solidarity, forcing the Alliance to justify the downing of a Russian Su-24 warplane.
"Today's meeting of the Nato Council could have become the moment of truth for the Alliance, as one of its key allies shot down a Russian plane taking part in an international effort to fight terrorism. However, the moment of truth failed to happen," Grushko said.
Meanwhile, the inevitable escalation of tensions between Russia and Nato and the West over the incident will complicate Moscow's efforts to forge an anti-terror coalition after the attacks on November 13 in Paris. Russia is also thought to be seeking a removal of EU and US sanctions imposed over its actions in Ukraine on the back of enhanced cooperation against the terrorist threat.
A scheduled visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Turkey on November 25 for high-level talks on the situation in Syria has been cancelled.
In a further indication that Moscow will pursue a hard diplomatic and possibly economic response to the incident, Putin added that Russia had noticed the flow of oil to Turkey from Syrian territory that was controlled by terrorists.
The Islamic State (IS) now not only receives revenue from oil smuggling, but also has the protection of a nation's military, Putin said. This may explain why the terrorist group is so bold in taking acts of terrorism across the world, the president added, warning that the incident will have "grave consequences" for Russia's relations with Turkey.
The fact that Turkey did not try to contact Russia in the wake of the incident and rushed to call a Nato meeting instead was conspicuous, Putin told the Jordanian king.
Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov later emphasized that Putin did not mean that there would be a Russian military response to the Turkish actions.
The markets immediately reacted to the news as the downing of the aircraft threatened to carry larger economic repercussions. Russia is Turkey's largest supplier of natural gas, and a Russian company will build a $22bn nuclear power plant in Turkey. Trade volume between the two countries is between $30bn and $35bn.
Turkey is also a major tourist destination for Russians and the industry generates some $3bn-4bn in revenues annually. Following the loss of the Su-24, Foreign Minister Lavrov urged citizens not to vacation in Turkey, saying the threat from terrorism there was "no less than in Egypt".