Turkey’s Anadolu news agency is reporting that 20 battle tanks have joined an armored brigade on Turkey’s western border with Syria while the Turkish Air Force has increased its patrolling of the same border.
Wednesday’s escalation or deescalation?
Tensions remain high in the region following Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber that did or did not cross into Turkish airspace. That, of course, depends on whom you’re listening to today. Russia is parading around the surviving pilot who insists that Turkey issued no warning to him or his commander, while Turkey has released an unverified recording of the warnings sent by the Turkish Air Force.
Rescued co-pilot Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin told state media reporters that “there were no warnings — not via the radio, not visually.”
“If they wanted to warn us, they could have shown themselves by heading on a parallel course,” Murakhtin said, according to the official Sputnik news agency. “But there was nothing.”
However, the tape released by the Turkish military tells a different story.
In one portion of the recording, a voice is heard saying: “This is Turkish Air Force speaking on guard. You are approaching Turkish airspace. Change your heading south immediately. Change your heading south.” Turkey maintains that this was the first of ten warnings given to the two planes.
Turkey adds more equipment to shore up Syrian border
“Accompanied by police and gendarmes, 20 tanks were sent by rail from Turkey’s western provinces by railway to Gaziantep in the south of the country, and then redirected to the Syrian border,” a military source told the agency.
In what can only be called a ridiculous statement by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier in the day, he called for the closing of the Turkey/Syria border suggesting it would go a long ways to ending the conflict in the region.
“I think this is a good suggestion. I think that President Hollande will tell us about this more in detail tomorrow. We would be ready to seriously review measures necessary for this…Many say that in closing the border, we would stop or sever the terrorist threat in Syria,” he said.
Statements like that only reinforce what many believe are attacks by Russia on rebels, including Turkmen rebels, who oppose the Assad regime.
“There is no Daesh” in the area where the Russian planes were flying, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, using another name for ISIS. “Do not deceive us! We know the locations of Daesh.”
“None of the targets that … the Russians were going after had anything to do with ISIS. Those were all those Turkmen groups,” said CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.
“You bring tanks, we’ll bring missiles,” says Russia’s response
With the increase of Turkish sorties near the Syrian border, few experts expected that to go unnoticed or unmatched by Russia or Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Today, Putin ordered state-of-the art air defense missile systems to protect Russia’s interests in Syria.
These include the S-400 missile systems, which will be sent to the Hmeymim air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia. That airbase is a mere 30 miles from the Turkish border and with a range of of 250 kilometers (155 miles), Turkish jets in their own airspace will certainly be on alert. With Syrian rebels not flying any planes and France and the United States flying dozens of missions against ISIS each day, the presence of S-400 missile systems is surely an additional concern for anyone flying in the area.
Putin also ordered the military to take other measures that “should be sufficient to ensure flight safety.”
Listening to his commander, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said today that all Russian bombers will now be accompanied by a fighter escort. Additionally, the missile cruiser Moskva has moved nearer the Turkish coast and with it comes the long-range Fort air defense system.