Turkey downs Russian jet in airspace dispute

On Tuesday, November 24, a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber aircraft was shot down by the Turkish Air Force near the Syria–Turkey border. According to Turkish officials, the jet was on a combat mission in northern Syria when it crossed into Turkish airspace. The Su-24’s crew of two was able to eject from the crippled aircraft; however, only the navigator survived. The pilot was killed by gunfire as he parachuted to the ground. His body was recovered and flown to Moscow on Monday.

The Turkish government states that its military gave ten warnings to the Russian plane before shooting it down over Turkey. Russia says that the jet’s crew received no warnings and did not leave Syrian airspace. United States officials have corroborated Turkey’s claim and stated that the Russian plane did enter Turkish airspace.

The incident has ratcheted up tensions between Russia and Turkey. Previously, the two countries had seen a warming in their relations since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that Turkey’s actions constitute “a stab in the back.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country is “saddened” by what happened. “I hope that something like this doesn’t occur again,” he added.

After a Turkish reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by Syrian government forces in 2012, Turkey’s then-President Abdullah Gul remarked, “It is routine for jet fighters to sometimes fly in and out over [national] borders.” In this case, however, Turkey had warned Russia to avoid its airspace after Russian aircraft made multiple incursions throughout the two-month-old military operation in Syria.

As Turkey is a member of NATO, the incident sparked fears of a wider conflict between the organization and Russia. However, NATO and Russian officials were quick to frame the confrontation as between only Russia and Turkey and not part of a wider dispute involving NATO. The alliance made clear that it strongly supports Turkey’s right to self-defense.

In response to the shooting down of its jet, Russian officials have announced a range of retaliatory measures against Turkey. Russia is no longer permitting visa-free travel between the two countries, and Russian tour groups cannot visit Turkey. In addition, Russian firms can no longer hire Turkish workers, and certain Turkish food imports to Russia have been banned. In Syria, Russia has deployed its advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system, and it has stationed a missile cruiser off of the Syrian coast. The Russian military also plans to escort its bombers with fighter jets.

Putin has asked Turkey to apologize for its actions, but Erdogan has said his country will not. On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated Turkey’s stance on the issue. “No country should ask us to apologize,” he said. “The protection of our land borders and our airspace is not only a right; it is a duty.”