Turkey shoots down Russian military plane on Syria border

ANKARA – 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 violated 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. 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 was 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 said.

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”. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s Office 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 Council’s (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.

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