Russian airman says no warnings from Turkey before warplane shot down
Putin orders air defence missile systems be deployed at Russian base in Syria
A Russian airman who has survived the downing of his warplane says Turkish jets did not issue any warnings.
Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin said Wednesday on Russian television that his plane was flying over Syrian territory and didn't violate Turkish airspace "even for a single second."
However, the Turkish military released what it said was an audio recording of a warning to a Russian jet before it was shot down near the Syrian border. A voice on the recording can be heard saying "change your heading."
Murakhtin, a navigator, was rescued early Wednesday by Russian and Syrian commandos and was speaking in Russian in televised comments from Russia's Hemeimeem airbase in Syria.
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"Of course, we have carried out combat missions there not just once," Reuters quoted him as saying. "I know it like the back of my hand. We carried out military tasks and used the same route to return to the airbase. As a navigator, I practically know every contour. I can navigate even without instruments."
'There were no contacts whatsoever,' navigator says
He said it was "impossible" that the aircraft entered Turkish airspace. "In actual fact, there were no warnings at all, neither by radio, nor visually. There were no contacts whatsoever."
Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24 bomber Tuesday, saying it crossed into its airspace from Syria despite repeated warnings. One of the two Russian pilots was killed by militants after bailing out while his crewmate was rescued by Syrian army commandos and delivered in good condition to the Russian base.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered state-of-the-art air defence missile systems to be deployed at a Russian airbase in Syria following the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey, a move that raised the threat of a military confrontation between the NATO member and Russia.
The S-400 missile systems, which will be sent to the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, located about 50 kilometres south of the border with Turkey, are capable of targeting Turkish jets with deadly precision.
Putin said the Russian plane remained in Syria's skies when it was shot down. He described Turkey's action as a "crime" and a "stab in the back," warning of serious consequences.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday that the Russian missile cruiser Moskva already has moved closer to shore to protect the Russian aircraft flying missions near Syria's border with Turkey with its long-range Fort air defence system.
"It will be ready to destroy any aerial target posing a potential danger to our aircraft," he said at a meeting with military officials.
Shoigu also said that from now on all Russian bombers will be escorted by fighters on their combat missions in Syria. He said that his ministry has severed all contacts with the Turkish military.
The Russian plane's downing marked a dramatic turnaround in relations between Russia and Turkey, who have proclaimed one another "strategic partners" in the past and developed booming economic ties despite differences over Syria.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to reporters Wednesday in London, where he met with the Queen and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, said it isn't helpful to point any fingers at one side or another.
"I think what's extremely important is that we call for calm, that we work together, that we stand by our NATO ally absolutely, but that we ensure that this incident doesn't escalate into more such incidents," he said.
It would be preferable, he added, to "allow for a greater level of shared purpose and actions in the operations to stabilize Syria."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who cancelled his planned trip to Turkey after the incident, described the shooting down of the Russian plane as a "planned provocation."
He said the Turkish action came after Russian planes successfully targeted the oil infrastructure used by the Islamic State, alleging that Turkey benefited from the oil trade.
Lavrov also said that Turkish territory was used by "terrorists" to prepare terror attacks in other countries, but offered no details.
He said that Russia "has no intention to go to war with Turkey," but added that Moscow will re-consider its ties with Ankara.
The Russian Foreign Ministry already has warned Russians against travelling to Turkey, and some leading Russian tourist agencies suspended the sales of tour packages to Turkey.
Putin said that the warning was needed "because we can't exclude some other incidents following what happened yesterday and our citizens in Turkey could be in significant danger."
No wish to escalate
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his country does not wish to escalate tensions with Russia over the downing of the plane.
Speaking at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation economy meeting in Istanbul, Erdogan said that Turkey favours "peace, dialogue and diplomacy." He defended his country's move to shoot down the plane saying: "no one should expect Turkey to stay silent to border violations or the violation of its rights."
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also sought to ease tensions, saying that Russia is Turkey's "friend and neighbour" and insisting relations cannot be "sacrificed to accidents of communication."
Davutoglu told his party's lawmakers on Wednesday that Turkey didn't know the nationality of the plane that was brought down on Tuesday until Moscow announced it was Russian.
He again defended Turkey's action, saying Russia was warned on several occasions that Turkey would take action in case its border is violated in line with its military rules of engagement.
Davutoglu also said Russia is an "important partner and tops the list of countries with which we have shown great sensitivity in building ties."
The Turkish prime minister, however, also criticized Russian and Syrian operations in Syria's Turkmen region, saying there is "not one single" presence of the Islamic State group there. Davutoglu demanded that operations there stop immediately.
Before Tuesday's incident, Russia and the West appeared to be inching toward joining efforts to fight the Islamic State group following the horrific Nov. 13 attacks in Paris and the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai desert. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks.
The downing of the plane came as French President Francois Hollande was visiting Washington prior to a trip to Moscow set for Thursday in a bid to narrow the rift between the West and Russia and agree on a joint action against the IS.
Hollande expressed concern over the war of words between Ankara and Moscow, telling a news conference "we must all work to make sure that the situation (between Russia and Turkey) de-escalates."
With files from Reuters