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24th Jan 2021

Nato sides with Turkey on Russia jet, urges calm

  • Stoltenberg (c): 'I welcome the contacts between Moscow and Ankara' (Photo: nato.int)

Nato has endorsed Turkey’s version of events on the shooting down of a Russian jet, as Russia rules out a “military” reaction.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg told press after an emergency ambassadors’ meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (24 November) that “the assessments we got from several [Nato] allies are consistent with the information we received from Turkey.”

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“What we are calling for now is calm … this is a serious situation which calls for us all to be prudent and contribute to de-escalating the situation. That’s why I welcome the contacts between Moscow and Ankara [on the incident],” he added.

According to Turkey, two Russian SU-24 planes approaching its airspace on Tuesday morning were warned 10 times to change direction.

They crossed the line at 9.24am to a depth of 2.2km for 17 seconds. Two Turkish F16s then fired at one of the SU-24s, which crashed on the Syrian side.

Syrian Turkmen fighters, a Turkey-backed rebel group in Syria, told the Reuters news agency they shot dead the two pilots as they descended by parachute.

Russian president Vladimir Putin said the SU-24 was flying 1km from the Turkish line inside Syria.

He described the incident as a “stab in the back” committed by “accomplices of terrorists.”

He accused Turkey of giving financial and military assistance to Islamic State (IS). He also said the incident “will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations.”

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, ruled out a military response in later comments. “The president, in fact, was not talking about any military implications and we should proceed from that,” he said.

He added that “no decision … has been taken” on whether Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with Putin in Russia in December, as planned.

But Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled his trip to Turkey, due on Wednesday, which was to prepare for the Russia summit.

The Russian foreign ministry also advised the 3.5 million Russian tourists who visit Turkey each year to stop going due to a “terrorist” threat.

For his part, Erdogan, on TV, said Turkey has a right to defend its territory.

He criticised Russia for previosuly bombing Syrian Turkmen groups, whom he called his “kinsmen,” and said he plans to create “humanitarian safe zones” for refugees inside Syria.

Bilateral issue

The main Nato powers - France, Germany, the UK, and the US - portrayed the incident as a Russia-Turkey issue.

US president Barack Obama, speaking at an event with France’s Francois Hollande in Washington, said: “It’s important to ensure the Russians and the Turks are talking to each other … and to discourage any kind of escalation.”

Hollande said: “We must find a solution to the Syrian crisis because this incident shows precisely what can happen if we don’t.”

British PM David Cameron phoned Erdogan to urge him to have a "direct conversation" with Putin.

Germany foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “I hope … both Ankara and Moscow are aware of the responsibility when it comes to reactions and couter-reactions.”

Obama also criticised Putin for bombing Western-backed rebels in Syria, however

He urged him to make a “strategic shift” by abandoning support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and by targeting IS only, adding: “If Russia was conducting its strikes agaist Daesh [another name for IS], I think the scope for such mistakes [crossing into Turkish airspace] would be smaller.”

Chess game

The last time a Nato ally shot down a Soviet plane was in Korea in 1952. The Soviet Union last shot down a US spy plane in 1960.

Russia recently stepped up airspace violations of the Baltic states and of Turkey. But Turkey is also guilty of buzzing Greek airspace from time to time.

One EU diplomat called Erdogan’s decision to strike the SU-24 a “chess move.”

He told EUobserver it's designed to curb Russia’s presence in Syria, which threatened to squeeze out Turkey’s interests.

“It’s a clever chess move because the last thing Russia needs right now is a new confrontation with the West. The Paris attack is Putin’s opportunity to rebuild ties. France, for one, is talking of brotherly love with Russia and of a new partnership to fight IS."

He predicted Turkey and Russia will wait for the dust to settle, then revive plans to build a new gas pipeline as a gesture of reconciliation.

Mark Galeotti, a US scholar of Russia affairs, said in his blog: “Russia cannot fight hot diplomatic wars on too many fronts, and Europe clearly wants Moscow to be part of the solution in Syria and, maybe, Ukraine.”

He predicted Putin will strike back against pro-Turkish groups in Syria or give support to anti-Turkey Kurdish forces in an asymmetric retaliation.

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