Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday, saying the jet had repeatedly violated its air space, in one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a NATO member country and Russia for half a century.Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane had been attacked when it was 1 km (0.62 mile) inside Syria and warned of “serious consequences” for what he termed a stab in the back administered by “the accomplices of terrorists”.
“We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today,” Putin said, as Russian and Turkish shares fell on fears of an escalation between the former Cold War enemies.
Each country summoned a diplomatic representative of the other and NATO called a meeting of its ambassadors for Tuesday afternoon. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov canceled a visit to Turkey due on Wednesday and the defense ministry said it was preparing measures to respond to such incidents.
Footage from private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV showed the warplane going down in flames, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it as it crashed in a wooded part of an area the TV said was known by Turks as “Turkmen Mountain”.
Separate footage from Turkey’s Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed. A deputy commander of rebel Turkmen forces in Syria said his men shot both pilots dead as they came down.
A video sent to Reuters earlier appeared to show one of the pilots immobile and badly wounded on the ground and an official from the rebel group said he was dead.
But a Turkish government official told Reuters the pilots were believed still to be alive and that Ankara was working to secure their release from Syrian rebels.
Russia’s defense ministry said one of its Su-24 fighter jets had been downed in Syria and that, according to preliminary information, the pilots were able to eject. “For the entire duration of the flight, the aircraft was exclusively over Syrian territory,” it said.
The Turkish military said the aircraft had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish air space. Officials said a second plane had also approached the border and been warned.
“The data we have is very clear. There were two planes approaching our border, we warned them as they were getting too close,” another senior Turkish official told Reuters.
“We warned them to avoid entering Turkish air space before they did, and we warned them many times. Our findings show clearly that Turkish air space was violated multiple times. And they violated it knowingly,” the official said.
A U.S. military spokesman said it was an issue between the Turkish and Russian governments and that U.S.-led coalition operations in Syria and Iraq were continuing “as planned”.
In Washington, an official said the United States believed the incursion probably lasted only a matter of seconds before the jet was downed. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the incident was still being investigated.
RUSSIA TARGETS TOURISM
Russia’s decision to launch separate air strikes in Syria mean Russian and NATO planes have been flying combat missions in the same air space for the first time since World War Two, targeting various insurgent groups close to Turkish borders.
Russia’s military involvement in Syria has brought losses, including the downed jet and the bombing by militants of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt. But there is no sign yet that public opinion is turning against the operation in Syria and the Kremlin said it would continue.
Instead the Kremlin, helped by state-controlled television, has used these reverses to rally public opinion, portraying the campaign as a moral crusade that Russia must complete, despite indifference or obstruction from elsewhere.
A U.S. official said U.S. forces were not involved in the downing of the Russian jet, which was the first time a Russian or Soviet military aircraft has been publicly acknowledged to have been shot down by a NATO member since the 1950s.
The incident appeared to scupper hopes of a rapprochement between Russia and the West in the wake of the Islamic State attacks in Paris, which led to calls for a united front against the radical jihadist group in Syria.
Russia’s main stock index fell more than two percent, while Turkish stocks fell 1.3 percent. Both the rouble and lira were weaker.
Lavrov advised Russians not to visit Turkey and one of Russia’s largest tour operators to the country said it would temporarily suspend sales of trips.