Russia has officially confirmed that Turkish forces have shot down one of its Sukhoi Su-24 fight jets. Though Turkey claimed that the warplane had violated Turkish airspace, the Kremlin said it could prove that the aircraft was well within the Syrian airspace. The two pilots were seen parachuting to safety. Moscow and Ankara both have dispatched military helicopters to find the pilots.
Russia claims the plane was in Syrian airspace
Citing local sources, CNN Turk reported that one of the pilots had fallen in the hands of Turkmen forces in Syria. A video has emerged showing a second pilot lying immobile and unconscious on the ground. The video was sent to Reuters by a Syrian rebel group. The rebel group claimed that the pilot was dead. The video shows armed rebel fighters standing near the body and shouting “Allah is great!”
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A Turkish government official said the action was not against a specific country. The Turkish military warned the aircraft 10 times in five minutes about violating Turkish airspace. The pilots ignored the warnings and flew over Turkey. However, Russia’s defense ministry said the Su-24 had been in Syrian airspace for the entire duration of its flight.
Too early to draw conclusions
Russian and Syrian forces have carried out airstrikes in the Latakia province where rebel groups such as Free Syrian Army operate. ISIS has little presence in the area. Since Russia jumped in Syria to protect the Assad regime, the Syrian airspace has been crowded with combat aircraft from NATO and Russia, increasing the possibility of an unintended direct military conflict between the US and Russia.
Russian defense ministry said it had received no further contact from either of the pilots since the plane was downed. A Kremlin spokesman described it as a “very serious incident,” but added that it was too early to reach any conclusions. It was the first time since the 1950s that a NATO member has downed a Soviet or Russian warplane. Last month, Turkey claimed that Russian military aircraft had violated Turkish airspace.