This morning, news outlets are reporting that Turkey shot down a Russian Sukhoi fighter jet somewhere along the Turkey-Syria border.
According to Turkey, they warned the fighter jet it was “repeatedly’ crossing into Turkish airspace and had been warned before it was attacked. Russia says the aircraft was well inside Syrian airspace and has promised “serious consequences.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane had been attacked when it was 1 km (0.62 mile) inside Syria and warned of “serious consequences” for what he termed a stab in the back administered by “the accomplices of terrorists”.
“We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today,” Putin said, as Russian and Turkish shares fell on fears of an escalation between the former Cold War enemies.
Each country summoned a diplomatic representative of the other and NATO called a meeting of its ambassadors for Tuesday afternoon. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov canceled a visit to Turkey due on Wednesday and the defense ministry said it was preparing measures to respond to such incidents.
Footage from private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV showed the warplane going down in flames, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it as it crashed in a wooded part of an area the TV said was known by Turks as “Turkmen Mountain”.
The two pilots appear to have parachuted out of the plane before it crashed and Russia is launching a search-and-rescue operation. Syrian rebels, who are fighting Russia to some extent inside Syria as Russia is supportive of the Assad regime, are saying, however, that they’ve captured the Russian pilots and one has been killed.
This could have major consequences, no matter how the story ultimately plays out. Russia and NATO have always been at odds, and this could be the first case of a NATO country taking this kind of aggressive action against Russia proper, even as a mistake. Russia has, of course, been recently flexing its muscles, even with NATO countries, as it teams up with France to fight ISIS (even though Russia is pro-leaving Assad in power and NATO is, at least generally, anti-Assad). Russia has been accusing Turkey, this week, of funding and abetting ISIS, specifically that Turkey is accepting and paying for ISIS’s oil, thus keeping the terrorist organization afloat. The accusations are not without merit: the US supposedly found evidence, last July, that Turkey and ISIS were doing business.
So while NATO and Russia are at odds over how to treat Turkey, a NATO member, some NATO members are at odds with Turkey over how to handle ISIS, and others are at odds with each other over how to handle Assad. The danger here is that the whole situation explodes and sends us into World War III.
I’m being dramatic of course.
At least, I hope I’m being dramatic.