Tuesday, 24 November 2015


Turkey shoots down Russian warplane on Syria border and pilot 'killed' - latest

Moscow officials confirm Russian warplane shot down by Turkey, as reports say one pilot has been killed and a second has been captured by Turkmen forces in Syria

Is this the pilot?

In this picture, on the left hand side, the flight jacket of a Russian fighter pilot is shown together with a grab from an unverified video which purportedly shows the unidentified body of pilot recovered after the plane was shot down.
I must stress that the Telegraph cannot confirm that the image on the right hand side is from today's crash but we are seeking to verify the image.

The flight jacket of a Russian fighter pilot (Lt) and a grab from a video which shows the unidentified body of pilot recovered after a fighter plane was shot down close to the Syrian border with Turkey

 

Putin: Turkey stabbed Russia in the back

Vladimir Putin has accused Turkey of "stabbing Russia in the back" by shooting down a Russian jet today, writes Roland Oliphant in Moscow.
Speaking during a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, the Russian president said the pilots had been "fulfilling their duty" "in the context of the fight against terrorism".
"The loss of our aircraft comes in the context of our fight against terrorism. But today’s loss was a blow in the back by the accomplices of terrorists. I can’t qualify this in any other way. Our plane was downed over Syrian territory by an air-to-air missile from a Turkish F16. It crashed inside Syria, 4km from the Turkish border.
"At the time it was engaged it was at 6,000m altitude and one kilometre from the Turkish border. In any case our pilots never threatened the territory of Turkey. This is obvious."
The president added: "Today's tragic event will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations. We will of course carefully analyse everything that happened."
• Meanwhile, Louisa Loveluck reports that rebels from Alwiya al-Ashar, the group that captured the Russian pilots, has told The Times that they shot one from the ground as he tried to steer his parachute to regime held territory.

Russian helicopter destroyed?

In what appears to be a separate incident, another Syrian rebel group - the Free Syrian Army’s First Coastal Division - says it has hit a Russia helicopter on Turkmen Mountain, using a TOW anti-tank missile, writes Louisa Loveluck, Middle East Correspondent.
Pro-regime media outlets appear to have confirmed the report, suggesting that a Russian helicopter has been forced to make an emergency landing in government-controlled Latakia.
It was previously reported that Russian helicopters were trying to access the location where the first fighter bomber had crashed.
If the strike is confirmed, the TOW missile was most likely supplied through the same US and Turkey-backed logistics programme that has reportedly been supplying Alwiya al-Ashar.
The rebels' usage of these American-made TOW missiles has increased over 800 per cent since Russia began air strikes against them at the end of September, slowing regime offensives across the country by destroying dozens of tanks and other armoured vehicles.

What will be the Russian reaction? Roland Oliphant explains

Today’s downing of an SU-24 fighter bomber is the first serious loss suffered by Russia since it launched air strikes in support of Bashar Assad’s government nearly two months ago, writes Roland Oliphant in Moscow.
Opinion It is a grim moment for the pilots, their families, and their comrades on the ground.
But it won’t have come as an immense shock to the Russian general staff, who know perfectly well that when you fly fast jets, and especially when you’re fighting an intensive air war, things can go wrong.
Whether from technical malfunction or enemy fire, the grim fact is Russia would have been incredibly lucky to get through this campaign without a single loss.
So, given that they must have known there was a strong chance of this, it is a safe bet that there are contingency plans in place.
Hence Russian army helicopters have already been seen scouring the area of the crash for the SU-24’s two crew members, in what is probably a well-drilled search and rescue procedure.
And at home, Russia’s tightly-controlled state media barely missed a beat.
Instead of playing down reports, or a suspicious pause before taking up coverage from elsewhere, Russian TV has been covering the incident in depth since it happened.
That suggests that the Kremlin was ready for the possibility of such an incident, and briefed TV chiefs accordingly to play it straight - conceding that in a war, one does inevitably take casualties.
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, (L) talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, before leaving the arrival area during the official welcome ceremony on day one of the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit on November 15, 2015 in Antalya, TurkeyVladimir Putin, (L) talks with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, before leaving the arrival area during the official welcome ceremony on day one of the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit on November 15, 2015 in Antalya, Turkey  Photo: Getty
The only question is, what do you do about Turkey.
Military retaliation is almost certainly out of the question. Turkey is a Nato member state, and shooting down its jets in response would risk starting world war three.
Instead, we may see air strikes against groups that Turkey supports on the ground - possibly including the Turkmen groups Ankara has already warned Russia against hitting.
There will also probably be a diplomatic response. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has reportedly cancelled a planned trip to Turkey, and one Russian MP has even called for the evacuation of Russian tourists from the country.
How far that goes, however, is up to Vladimir Putin, and so far he is keeping his cards close to his chest.
His spokesman said earlier that the Kremlin would not make “some kind of statements until we have a complete picture".


Nato confirms meeting

Carmen Romero, a Nato spokesman, confirmed to the Telegraph that there will be a meeting at 4pm UK time.
Here is a statement given to all media organisations:
Quote At the request of Turkey, the North Atlantic Council will hold an extraordinary meeting at 5pm (Brussels time).
The aim of this extraordinary NAC meeting is for Turkey to inform allies about the downing of a Russian airplane. Nato is monitoring the situation closely. We are in close contact with Turkish authorities.

Hammond: Potentially a serious incident

When asked about the downed Russian warplane, Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, said: “Our view and the strong view of all our partners and allies is that we need to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria, writes Michael Wilkinson, Political Correspondent.
“We are seeking further details urgently in Moscow and Ankara. This is potentially a serious incident but it wouldn’t be wise to comment further until we have the facts.”

Russian pilot 'was dead' upon landing

The Associated Press is reporting that one of the Russian pilots was killed before he landed in Syria, citing a source in Alwiya al-Ashar, the rebel group who have captured his body, writes Louisa Loveluck.
Alwiya al-Ashar is one of around a dozen Turkmen groups fighting alongside Syria's rebels. It is linked to a Turkish and CIA-backed logistics supply programme that funnels a near-constant stream of small arms, ammunition, and cash for salaries to rebel groups across northern Syria.

'Do not test Turkey's patience'

Turkey's ambassador to the US in Washington has given this stark warning to Turkey's foes. I shall translate for those who do not know Turkish.
Now understand, Turkey's words and warnings should be heeded. Do not test its patience, try to win its friendship.

H/T BBC's Cagil M. Kasapoglu

Turkey tells Telegraph: We repeatedly warned the aircraft

A Turkish government official has told the Telegraph (and other media organisations) that the action was not against a specific country and that they warned the aircraft. The official said the plane ignored their warnings and flew over Turkey,
Quote In line with the military rules of engagement, the Turkish authorities repeatedly warned an unidentified aircraft that they were 15km or less away from the border. The aircraft didn't heed the warnings and proceeded to fly over Turkey. The Turkish Air Forces responded by downing the aircraft.
"In the past, we have made public our military rules of engagement and reminded our counterparts that any violation of Turkish airspace would trigger the actions prescribed by the MRoE. This isn't an action against any specific country: Our F-16s took necessary steps to defend Turkey's sovereign territory.
This map shows the alleged route of the plane (in red), according to the Turkish government.

The Times' Defence Editor tweets that Nato will hold an extraordinary session today in light of the morning's events.



Kremlin: Waiting for crash confirmation

The Kremlin says it is still waiting for confirmation of the cause of the crash, writes Roland Oliphant in Moscow.
Quote So far, we have not heard the reason for the crash of our attack aircraft from the Defense Ministry. We know for sure that the aircraft was in Syrian airspace, over the territory of Syria," Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, told Russian agencies.
"It would be wrong to make some kind of assumptions right now, to make any statements until we have the complete picture. Therefore, we just have to be patient. This is a very serious incident, but again, it is impossible to say anything without complete information."
Mr Peskov said Mr Putin would likely "touch on" the subject during a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan today, and would be "some kind of reaction" later in the day.

Russia Today presenter: Stop the hysterics

Natasha Kuhrt, a war studies lecturer at King's College London university, explains how some within Russian media are trying to play today's events down.
Opinion Dmitriy Kiselev, the Russia Today presenter (aka Russia's chief spin doctor) has been telling people to stop the hysterics as Turkey is Russia's friend and trading partner - clearly trying to play things down.
On Russian TV, they have mainly been blaming the rebels, and not mentioning Turkey at all. The general thrust is to try to play down this incident.
No word from Kremlin at all but the rumour is Mr Putin may 'say something' about the incident tomorrow when he meets Saudi Arabia's King Salman.
A Russian expert commentator has said that no air cover was provided for the SU-24 but he was pulled off the programme before he could say any more.

Syrian rebel group: Pilot is dead

Reuters news agency has been told by the official of a Syrian rebel group that one of the pilots is in fact dead.
Earlier we mentioned a video and Reuters says that you can hear a voice says "a Russian pilot" and another saying: "God is great".
The group, operating in north-west Syria, sent the footage to the news agency and operate in the same area as the Free Syrian Army and other groups.
The whereabouts or condition of the second pilot are unknown and the official made no comment on what may happened to the pilot.
The aircraft crashed in the Kizildag region of Turkey's Hatay province  Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Nato: We are closely following developments

Nato has said it is closely following developments surrounding the loss of the Russian SU-24, writes Roland Oliphant in Moscow.
With fears of a diplomatic crisis growing Turkey, a Nato member, has said it will raise the issue within the alliance at the United Nations.
"Necessary initiatives will be taken at Nato, the UN, and at the level of countries concerned by the foreign minister upon instructions from Mr Prime Ministers, said the office of Ahmet Davutoglu, the prime minister, in a statement.
In October the North Atlantic Council, Nato's governing body, warned Russia that was courting "extreme danger" by sending planes into Turkish airspace.

Nato in contact with Turkish authorities

On the phone with the Nato press office, all the organisation would say is that they are in contact with Turkish authorities regarding the incident.
Meanwhile, in a separate event, Russian journalists have been injured in Syria, according to Russia's defence ministry.
The ministry said in a statement this morning that the three journalists had been travelling to Tuesday the village of al-Dagmashliya in the mostly government-controlled province of Latakia when a missile landed near their car. The injured were reportedly taken to a hospital in the province's Russian military base.
"Three Russian journalists were lightly injured, one of them suffered concussion," said the statement. "Currently the whole group of Russian journalists has returned to the Hmeimim air base, where the wounded are getting medical care."
The Russian ministry of defence claimed the journalists were targeted by a TOW - an American-made anti-tank missile that has helped Syrian rebel groups inflict serious losses on government forces in recent months.
Lifenews, a Russian television station, reported that the attack was a mortar strike carried out be fighters from al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

Kremlin: 'Very serious incident'

The spokesman for Vladimir Putin has described today's events as a "very serious incident" but warned against drawing conclusions,
"It is just impossible to say something without having full information," Dmitry Peskov said.
As diplomatic tensions ratchet up between Moscow and Ankara, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has cancelled a trip to Turkey that had been scheduled for tomorrow.

'Local fighters reportedly surround pilot'

An unconfirmed video uploaded on YouTube purports to show one of the downed pilots surrounded by local fighters.
The alleged pilot, who is lying on the ground and wearing a camouflage multi-pocketed vest similar to those used by Russian airforce pilots, appears to be seriously wounded and possibly dead.
Because of its graphic nature and because it is unconfirmed, the Telegraph has decided not to share or link to it.
 A still image from video footage shown by the HaberTurk TV Channel shows smoke billowing from what was described as the crash site of a plane after it was shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border A still image from video footage shown by the HaberTurk TV Channel shows smoke billowing from what was described as the crash site of a plane after it was shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border  Photo: EPA

Reports: Russian pilot killed

There are reports - unconfirmed - that a Russian pilot has been killed.
According to English-language newspaper, Today's Zaman, a CNN Turk reporter in Yayladağ, a helicopter was seen above the scene of the crash.
Opposition fighters are accused of preventing the aircraft from picking up the pilots.
CNN Turk is reporting that one of the pilots has been captured by Turkmen forces in Syria. The news agency said the fighters were searching for a second pilot. Unconfirmed reports circulating on social media have suggested that he might be dead.


Conflicting version of events

What does Turkey say happened?
Turkey says the plane violated its airspace 10 times within a five minute period and was shot down by two Turkish F-16s.
"A Russian Su-24 plane was downed under the rules of engagement because it violated the Turkish airspace despite the warnings," the Turkish presidency said.
The Turkish general staff said: "A warplane of unknown nationality that breached Turkish airspace over Hatay’s [province] Yayladagi region at 9.20 am [0720 GMT] was alerted 10 times in five minutes."
And what does Russia say?
Moscow claims it was a result of ground fire rather than Ankara shooting the plane down. Below is the defence ministry statement to Russian news agencies@
"Today on Syrian territory, apparently as a result of ground fire, an SU-24 of the Russian aviation group in the Syrian Arab Republic crashed.
"The aircraft as at an altitude of 6,000 metres. The fate of the pilots is being established. According to preliminary information, the pilots successfully ejected.
"The circumstances of the loss are also being established. The defence ministry states that the aircraft was excessively over Syrian territory during its entire flight. This is established by objective means of [air traffic] control," the ministry added.
The aircraft crashed in the Kizildag region of Turkey's Hatay province  Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

What do we know about the plane?

A Russian warplane was shot down on the Turkish-Syrian border on Tuesday, defence officials in Moscow have confirmed, in the country’s first serious loss since it launched an air war in Syria in late September.
Russia’s ministry of defence said an SU-24 bomber had been downed over Syria and that it was investigating the circumstances of the crash. Both pilots safely ejected, the ministry said.
Earlier Turkish military officials said their airforce had downed an unidentified warplane after it approached Turkey’s airspace.
In a video, a plane is seen exploding in the air and the fireball fell on a Turkmen mountain on the Syrian side of the border, CNN-Turk and NTV broadcasters reported.
Two pilots can be seen making a safe landing with their parachutes in a video released by Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency.
The aircraft crashed in the Kizildag region of Turkey's Hatay provinceThe aircraft crashed in the Kizildag region of Turkey's Hatay province  Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ankara claimed Turkish F-16 fighter jets shot down the plane after it violated Turkish air space close to the Syrian border and ignored warnings, a Turkish military official told Reuters.
There was some confusion over where the plane crashed after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said the warplane crashed in a mountainous area in the northern countryside of Latakia province in Syria while there were reports it crashed in Hatay, southern Turkey.
The Turkish military said the plane was warned 10 times in five minutes but Turkish officials would not say who the plane belonged to.
The Russian ministry of defence said the aircraft appeared to have been downed by ground fire, rather than jets, as the Turkish government has said.
Moscow insisted that the aircraft never left Syrian airspace during its mission - contesting Turkish claims that it was shot down when it crossed into its territory.
"Today on Syrian territory, apparently as a result of ground fire, an SU-24 of the Russian aviation group in the Syrian Arab Republic crashed," the Russian defence ministry told agencies in a statement.
"The aircraft as at an altitude of 6,000 metres. The fate of the pilots is being established. According to preliminary information, the pilots successfully ejected.
"The circumstances of the loss are also being established. The defence ministry states that the aircraft was excessively over Syrian territory during its entire flight. This is established by objective means of [air traffic] control," the ministry added.
Moscow confirmed that the pilots had parachuted but had no further contact with them. According to a Turkish official speaking to CNN Turk, two warplanes approached Turkish border and "were warned before one of them was shot down".
 A Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet taking off from the Air Force airfield in Wittmund, Germany A Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet taking off from the Air Force airfield in Wittmund, Germany  Photo: EPA
The office of Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, said that Ankara would consult Nato and the UN on developments on the Syrian border. It comes a day before Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was expected to pay a visit to Turkey on Wednesday to discuss Syria, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as well as Cyprus.
The visit was intended to be part of a meeting of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Councils (ÜDİK), Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Russia’s airforce launched air strikes in support of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government in late September and Turkey, which backs rebel groups opposing Assad, has previously warned Russian aircraft against approaching its airspace.
Ankara has also bitterly complained about the bombing of ethnic Turkmen areas inside Syria, calling for UN security council meeting to discuss the attacks earlier this week.
Last week the Turkish foreign ministry summoning the Russian ambassador to complain about the bombing of Turkmen villages.
A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraftA Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft  Photo: Reuters
Syria's Turkmen, an ethnic minority of Turkish descent, have emerged as Ankara's favoured proxy force in the war against Mr Assad's regime.
Turkmen brigades have joined rebels in the fight against Isil in northern Syria, and have been put forward as Turkey's favoured force to police any buffer zone that may emerge along the Syrian-Turkish border.