Turkey’s downing of Russian warplane – what we know

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has condemned Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian warplane on its border with Syria.

It is the first time a Russian aircraft has crashed in Syria since Moscow launched air strikes against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in September.

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Russia denied that the warplane had crossed Syria’s border and violated Turkish airspace. REUTERS

What happened?

Both Russia and Turkey say the Russian Su-24, an all-weather attack aircraft, was shot down by Turkish F-16s in the Turkey-Syria border area on 24 November.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane, which had two crew members, was flying at an altitude of 6,000m (19,685ft) when it was hit by an air-to-air missile.

The plane crashed in the mountainous Jabal Turkmen area of the Syrian province of Latakia, which is contested by Syrian government and rebel forces.

Why was it shot down?

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Turkey’s permanent representative Halit Cevik wrote that two aircraft whose nationalities were unknown had approached Turkish airspace near the town of Yayladagi in Hatay province.

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The planes were warned 10 times over the space of five minutes via an “emergency” channel and asked to change direction, he added.

Both planes disregarded the warnings and then flew 2.19km (1.36 miles) and 1.85km (1.15 miles) into Turkey for 17 seconds from 09:24:05 (07:24:05 GMT), according to Mr Cevik.

“Following the violation, plane 1 left Turkish national airspace. Plane 2 was fired at while in Turkish national airspace by Turkish F-16s performing air combat patrolling in the area. Plane 2 crashed onto the Syria side of the Turkish-Syrian border.”

The Turkish military also published what it said was the radar image of the path the Russian plane took, showing it briefly flying across Turkey’s southern-most tip.

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Turkey’s military said its F-16s had acted “in accordance with the rules of engagement”. REUTERS

But Mr Putin said the Su-24 was over Syrian territory, 1km (0.6 miles) from Syria’s border with Turkey, when it was hit. It crashed 4km from the border, he added.

The Russian defence ministry insisted that the aircraft remained within Syria’s borders throughout its mission, did not violate Turkish airspace and received no warnings.

It published a video showing what it said was the Su-24’s flight path.

The pilot who survived the crash, Capt Konstantin Murakhtin, told Russian television he had not received a warning before being shot down.

US military officials said there were indications the downed plane entered Turkish airspace for a matter of seconds, and that it had been warned to stay out.

What happened to the crew?

Video footage published by Turkish media showed that the Su-24’s two crew – the pilot and the navigator – ejected as their burning aircraft plummeted to the ground.

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Russian Su-24 aircraft based in Latakia province have flown hundreds of sorties over Syria. EPA

Rebels from Syria’s ethnic Turkmen community, whose villages Turkey said had been bombed by Russian aircraft in recent weeks, opened fire at the crew as they tried to parachute into government-held territory.

One of them was dead when he landed on the ground, the rebels said. A video was also posted online showing gunmen standing around a man in a flight suit who was immobile on the ground.

The next day, Russia confirmed the pilot, Lt Col Oleg Peshkov, had been killed.

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Syrian rebels said they had opened fire at the Su-24’s crew as they descended by parachute. REUTERS

But it said the navigator, Capt Murakhtin, had been rescued and taken to Russia’s Humaymim airbase in Latakia by Syrian government forces.

A Russian marine, Aleksandr Pozynich, was also killed during an attempted rescue mission, when an Mi-8 helicopter he was travelling in came under fire.

Why was the Russian jet there?

Russia is one of several countries directly involved in the conflict in Syria, which has left more than 250,000 people dead since March 2011.

Moscow is an ally of President Assad and is conducting air strikes to prop up his government. It says it is targeting only “terrorists” – above all jihadist militants from Islamic State (IS) – but its strikes have mainly hit Western-backed rebels.

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Syrian rebels have meanwhile received substantial support from Turkey, an opponent of Mr Assad. Ankara also allows the US-led multinational coalition against IS to use its airbases to conduct strikes on the group in Syria.

How has Russia reacted?

President Putin warned that Tuesday’s incident would have “significant consequences” for Turkey, insisting the downed Su-24 had “posed no threat”.

He said the jet had been carrying out “preventative attacks” against IS in Latakia, and also that Russia had established large quantities of oil were entering Turkey from IS-held areas, providing the jihadist group with significant funding.

“This was a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists,” Mr Putin stated.

Although Turkey’s policy of allowing Syrian rebel fighters and arms shipments to pass through its territory has been exploited by IS, officials have denied supporting the group. Activists say IS has little or no presence near the crash site.

Is Nato backing Turkey?

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Nato said it was in close contact with Turkey after the Russian jet was downed. AP

The last time a Nato state shot down a Russian or Soviet plane was in the 1950s.

After an extraordinary meeting of the alliance’s main decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg declared: “We stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our Nato ally.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that “everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend its borders”.

He also noted that Turkey’s actions were fully in line with the new rules of engagement adopted after Syria shot down a Turkish jet in 2012. The rules state that all “elements” approaching from Syria are considered an enemy threat.

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