Update: according to multiple news outlets, NATO has called an emergency meeting in response to this incident.
Reports have emerged of the shootdown of a Russian military aircraft in the Turkish-Syria border region near Iskenderun. The downed jet was reportedly a Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer bomber, brought down by Turkish F-16s responding to an airspace violation.
Turkish officials acknowledge the shootdown and insist that the Russian jet was warned 10 times in 5 minutes to exit Turkish airspace, but refused. One Turkish official explained more specifically:
“In line with the military rules of engagement, the Turkish authorities repeatedly warned an unidentified aircraft that they were 15km or less away from the border. The aircraft didn’t heed the warnings and proceeded to fly over Turkey. The Turkish air forces responded by downing the aircraft. This isn’t an action against any specific country: our F-16s took necessary steps to defend Turkey’s sovereign territory.”
For its part, Russia denies any airspace violation and claims the aircraft was brought down by ground-based anti-aircraft fire while operating over Syria. Russia’s defense ministry tweeted that “the Su-24 was at 6,000 metres [altitude] and preliminary information suggests it was brought down by fire from the ground. The circumstances are being investigated.”
Both crew members ejected safely from the aircraft, though one of the pilots was reportedly found dead later, with mixed reports indicating he may have been killed on the ground by an armed group. Video circulating on social media appears to show gunmen firing on one of the pilots as he descends under a parachute, though the authenticity of the video is uncertain at this point.
Searches are reportedly being conducted for the second crew member in the border zone straddling Latakia and Iskenderun.
The Turkish government has reportedly summoned Russia’s ambassador as a result of the incident, issuing the Kremlin a warning that it will not tolerate further airspace incursions. The incident marks the third known breach of Turkish airspace by Russian aircraft in the past two weeks, and follows on the heels of high-level talks between the two governments on the subject.
This incident marks the first direct clash between NATO and Russian military forces in the unfolding war in and around Syria. It underscores the risk of escalation of the crisis into a broader and more intense international conflict absent better coordination between the parties involved, whose objectives are both overlapping and divergent in different ways.
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