19 April 2019
This frame grab from a Russian defense ministry video shows a pilot on a Russian SU-25 military jet at Heymim air base in Syria. Photo: Reuters
This frame grab from a Russian defense ministry video shows a pilot on a Russian SU-25 military jet at Heymim air base in Syria. Photo: Reuters

NATO denounces Russian incursion into Turkish airspace

The United States and its NATO allies denounced Russia for violating Turkish airspace and Ankara threatened to respond.

In Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization held an emergency meeting of ambassadors from its 28 member states to respond to what Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called “unacceptable violations of Turkish airspace”, Reuters reported.

A Russian jet crossed its frontier with Syria on Saturday, and a Russian warplane again violated Turkish airspace on Sunday, prompting Ankara to summon Moscow’s ambassador.

Turkey said Russia would be held “responsible for any undesired incident that may occur” if it were repeated.

NATO members “strongly protest” and “condemn” incursions into Turkish and NATO territory, the alliance said after the first incursion was reported.

“Allies also note the extreme danger of such irresponsible behavior. They call on the Russian Federation to cease and desist, and immediately explain these violations,” NATO said in a statement after the meeting.

The White House called the Russian move a “provocation”, and US Secretary of State John Kerry said it illustrated concerns about an escalated Syrian conflict.

“Had Turkey responded … it could have resulted in a shootdown, and it is precisely the kind of thing we warned against,” Kerry said during a visit to Chile.

The Russian defense ministry said on Monday that an SU-30 fighter aircraft had entered Turkish airspace along the border with Syria “for a few seconds” on Saturday.

Moscow’s unexpected move last week to launch air strikes in Syria has brought the greatest threat of an accidental clash between Russian and Western forces since the Cold War.

Russian war planes as well as those of the US and its allies are now flying combat missions over the same country for the first time since World War Two, with Moscow repeatedly targeting insurgents trained and armed by allies of Washington.

Turkey, a NATO member with the alliance’s second biggest army, scrambled two F-16 jets on Saturday after a Russian aircraft crossed into its airspace near its southern province of Hatay, the Turkish foreign ministry said.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he had been told by Russia that the violation was a “mistake” that would not happen again.

“Turkey’s rules of engagement apply to all planes, be they Syrian, Russian or from elsewhere … Necessary steps would be taken against whoever violates Turkey’s borders, even if it’s a bird,” he said on HaberTurk TV.

“For Russia, which long opposed foreign intervention in Syria and blocked UN Security Council resolutions, to be actively involved in Syria is both a contradiction and a move that has escalated the crisis.”

The US and its allies are waging their own air campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria, while demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down and supporting other insurgents fighting against him.

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