MOSCOW (Web Desk) – The surviving pilot of a Russian plane shot down by Turkey on the Syrian border has said no warning was given by Turkish pilots.
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Captain Konstantin Murakhtin told Russian television there was “no way” the jet could have violated Turkish airspace, as Turkey said it did.
Russia sent an advanced missile system to Syria on Wednesday to protect its jets operating there and pledged its air force would keep flying missions near Turkish air space, sounding a defiant note to Turkey and other NATO member states.
The downing of the jet on Tuesday was one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a NATO member and Russia for half a century, and further complicated international efforts to battle Islamic State militants in Syria.
Russia said Capt Murakhtin was rescued in a 12-hour operation involving special forces of Russia and Syria.
Syrian special forces “last night carried out a joint operation with Russian special forces, penetrating four to five kilometres into areas where terrorists are located, and were able to save one of the pilots of the Russian plane”, returning him to a military base, state news agency SANA said.
Turkey insists the pilots were warned 10 times before the plane was shot down.
It is not clear what happened to the body of his co-pilot, who was killed by gunfire as he parachuted from the burning plane.
Capt Murakhtin was speaking from the Hmeymim airbase, where Russia’s aircraft have been based in its Syrian campaign, and where he was taken after being rescued.
Tensions have escalated between the two countries over the incident, and Russia has broken off military contacts with Turkey. The US, the EU and the UN have all appealed for calm.
President Putin has described the downing of the plane as a “stab in the back”, and warned of serious consequences.
His Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the incident was a “planned provocation” but Russia did not want to wage war over the shooting, Reuters reports.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended the action, saying “everyone must respect the right of Turkey to protect its borders”. He has said he does not want to escalate tensions further.
Turkey is a member of Nato. The alliance has backed Turkey’s version of events, although it, too, is calling for “diplomacy and de-escalation” to resolve the situation.
Russian defence officials say the plane never entered Turkish territory, and that Turkish pilots made no attempt to communicate with the Russians before they fired.
Russia has announced fighter jets will now escort its bombers during air strikes over Syria, and Moscow is sending out its most advanced anti-aircraft missile system, the S-400.
Russia and Turkey have found themselves on opposing sides in Syria’s conflict, with Russia supporting President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey is a staunch critic.
While they talk of not wanting to escalate tensions, both Russia and Turkey had some harsh words for each other on Wednesday:
“We have serious doubts about this being an unpremeditated act, it really looks like a planned provocation” – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Turkey’s downing of the jet.
“We should be honest here. Supporting someone who is practising state terror… if you confirm, if you approve violence or oppression you are [an] oppressor,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an apparent reference to Russia’s support for Syria’s President Assad.
“The problem is not the tragedy we witnessed yesterday. The problem is much deeper. We observe… that the current Turkish leadership over a significant number of years has been pursuing a deliberate policy of supporting the Islamicisation of their country,” Russian President Vladimir Putin on Turkey.
“No-one can legitimise attacks on Turkmen in Syria using the pretext of fighting the Islamic State,” Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu suggesting Russia is not being honest about its targets in Syria.
Russians have been advised not to visit Turkey – a popular tourist destination for Russians – and one of Russia’s largest tour operators, Natali Tours, has suspended package holidays there.
There have been loud calls in Russia for economic sanctions and for all flights to Turkey to be cancelled, the BBC reports.