Turkey said its military shot down a Russian warplane after it violated its airspace en route to bomb targets in Syria, in a move that seems likely to complicate further attempts to bring an end to the multi- dimensional war there and crush the so-called Islamic State (Da’esh).
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the loss of a Su-24 fighter-bomber, adding that the crew had ejected but that their fate was unknown. It denied that the plane had violated Syrian airspace, saying that it had stayed above Syria all through its flight. The Turkish Defense Ministry flatly contradicted that claim, saying that the two F-16 fighters that had engaged the plane had only fired after it ignored 10 warnings in five minutes. The private broadcaster CNN Türk said that one crew member had been captured but the other had died.
It’s not the first instance of tension between Turkish and Russian forces over Syria. Turkey has claimed repeated violations of its airspace and has already shot down a Russian drone. It had issued a formal protest to the Russian ambassador in Ankara after another airspace violation on Oct. 3.
While Russia’s forces in Syria are supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey is committed to seeing him ousted. Although both countries also claim to be committed to destroying Islamic State, their attitude towards the self-proclaimed caliphate has appeared ambivalent at times: Russia’s air campaign has largely targeted other rebel groupings backed by the West and by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, rather than IS. Turkey, meanwhile, has generally failed to stop jihadists from Europe, Russia and Africa travelling through Turkey to join Islamist forces in Syria and Iraq. That’s despite the open conflict between IS and Turkey’s NATO allies in Iraq.
The incident threatens to undermine the rare degree of unity shown last week by the United Nations Security Council, which passed a resolution on Friday calling for IS to be destroyed by “all necessary measures,” in the wake of its devastating attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.
The attacks have led to an unprecedented wave of counter-terrorism measures by police in France and Belgium, where the raids appear to have been organized. The Belgian capital of Brussels, which also hosts the European Union’s bureaucracy and parliament, entered its fourth day of complete lockdown Tuesday due to an ongoing terrorist threat. Schools, public transport, restaurants and many offices have been shut down completely and won’t reopen before Wednesday.