According to a document allegedly penned by the Turkish ambassador to the United Nations (UN) and obtained by WikiLeaks, Turkey acknowledges two Russian Su-24 “Fencer” aircraft infringed Turkish airspace for a scarce 17 seconds.
Moscow denies any breach of Turkish airspace occurred during the combat mission.
The letter outlines Turkish attempts to warn the approaching aircraft and demands the aircraft change tack to a southern bearing.
The letter, in part, read:
“Disregarding these warnings, both planes, at an altitude of 19,000 feet, violated Turkish national airspace to a depth of 1.36 miles and 1.15 miles in length for 17 seconds from 9:24:05 local time.”
The Russian Defense Ministry has denied Turkish air defense issued warnings to the Russian aircraft prior to the attack.
In conflict with Ankara’s official narrative, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed the Russian bomber was attacked one kilometer from the Turkish-Syrian border and crashed four kilometers inside Syria.
Russia is now claiming the Turkish aircraft entered Syrian airspace to engage the Russian plane.
Russia’s position appeared to receive some support from American media outlets:
“This airplane was not making any maneuvers to attack the territory. It was probably pressing the limits, that’s fair. But you don’t shoot them down just because of that. I don’t really trust President Erdogan in what he is doing. I think it was an overly aggressive maneuver and at NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense] command region we would not use this kind of rules of engagement. That had to be preplanned,” said former Vice Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, told Fox News.
Although one aircrew from the doomed Su-24 died and another Russian serviceman was killed during a recovery operation, the navigator of the Su-24 was rescued late Tuesday.
Meeting the press corps in Syria, Lieutenant Konstantin Murakhtin refuted Turkey’s claim of warnings:
“It’s impossible that we violated their airspace even for a second. We were flying at an altitude of 6,000 meters in completely clear weather, and I had total control of our flight path throughout.”
“In actual fact there were no warnings at all. Neither through the radio, nor visually, so we did not at any point adjust our course. You need to understand the difference in speed between a tactical bomber like a Su-24, and that of the F16. If they wanted to warn us, they could have sat on our wing.”
“As it was, the missile hit the back of our plane out of nowhere. We didn’t even have time to make an evasive maneuver.“
Mr. Putin is right to fume over 17 seconds.
There is no atmosphere of mystery in the skies over Syria: The Russians are known to Ankara to be conducting military operations against the sinister forces of ISIS inside Turkey’s southern neighbor.
Presupposing the Russian aircraft did infringe on Turkish airspace, a 17-second violation from an aircraft making no aggressive gesture does not merit destruction.
This is precisely why the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has greeted Ankara’s explanations in private with skepticism despite illustrating solidarity with Turkey in public.
For good measure, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed Turkey has a right to defend its territory. Turkey does indeed have the right to exercise a defense of its sovereign airspace. This is, however, selective outrage: As Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan seethed at the loss of a Turkish air force fighter in 2012 in Syria, admitted Turkey’s plane had strayed over Syrian territory briefly and had been downed.
Erdogan declared a brief incursion should not be a pretext for an attack, but this was 2012.
For Turkey, precautions should be more vigorous.
[RT News] [WikiLeaks/Twitter] [CNN/Twitter] [Photo courtesy DailyMail]