November 2015 – MIDDLE EAST – Tensions in the Middle East ratcheted up dangerously Wednesday, a day after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, with the Turkish President accusing Russia of deceit and Russia announcing it would deploy anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said, according to the ministry’s Twitter feed, that the country would deploy S-400 defense missile systems to its Hmeymim airbase near Latakia, Syria, on the Mediterranean coast. The missiles have a range of 250 kilometers, according to the missilethreat.com website, or 155 miles. The Turkish border, at its closest, is less than 30 miles away. For his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned in harsh terms Wednesday what he said was the violation of Turkish airspace a day earlier by Russian warplanes, calling the incident an infringement of his country’s sovereignty.
He charged Russia with being deceitful and with propping up the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad — a regime he said was inflicting terrorism on its own people. His remarks came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Turkey of being “the terrorists’ accomplices” for having shot down a plane on an alleged anti-terrorism mission. Erdogan disputed that assertion in a speech Wednesday at an economic forum in Istanbul. In the area where the Russian planes were flying, “There is no Daesh!” Erdogan said, using another name for ISIS. “Do not deceive us! We know the locations of Daesh.”
Erdogan said Turkey had no intention of escalating the situation. But his fiery words highlighted the fact that the conflict in Syria, a years-long maelstrom of death and misery, has now churned up a new and alarming wave of international turbulence after a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber in a border area. The midair clash Tuesday prompted angry words from both sides and underscored the high stakes at play in Syria where the United States, Russia and a swarm of other global, regional and local forces are entangled in the messy civil war. Turkey, a NATO member, said it had repeatedly warned the Russian warplane, shooting it down after it violated its airspace. Russia rejected that version of events, saying the Sukhoi Su-24 bomber posed no threat to Turkey and was attacked 1 kilometer inside Syrian territory.
But Erdogan said Tuesday that parts of the downed plane had fallen inside Turkey, injuring two people. Amid global worries over the incident’s repercussions, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called the downing of the plan “a stab in the back by the terrorists’ accomplices,” predicting “serious consequences” for relations between the two countries. Adding to the tensions were the fates of the two Russian pilots aboard the bomber. Turkmen rebels operating in the area of Syria where the plane went down appeared to claim in a video that they shot both pilots to death as they parachuted toward the ground. CNN couldn’t independently confirm the claim.
The Russian military said it believed one of the pilots was dead. Wednesday morning, though, the Russian Defense ministry said the second pilot had been rescued. The ministry said the pilot was safe at the Hmeymim airbase. The Russian military also said a Russian marine was killed after a helicopter came under attack during the search-and-rescue efforts. –CNN