Russia jet in Turkish airspace was 'not the first'

Russia jet in Turkish airspace was 'not the first'
Analysis: The downing of a Russian fighter plane was not the first time that Ankara has warned Moscow about border violations.
3 min read
24 November, 2015
Turkey had changed its rules of engagement regarding its airspace a few years ago [Getty]

Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane on Tuesday - a long-feared crisis in Syria's civil war and apparently the first time a NATO member has downed a Russian plane in a half-century.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Turkey's action a "stab in the back by the terrorists' accomplices", and warned of "significant consequences", but Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted his country had the right to take "all kinds of measures" against border violations.

Davutoglu's warning against border violation, however, was not the first of its kind.

     Our rules of engagement are clear whoever violates our airspace. Even it is a flying bird it will be intercepted
- Turkish Prime Minister

In October, Turkish jets intercepted a Russian fighter which had breached Turkish airspace near the Syrian border.

Davutoglu issued a warning saying that Ankara would "activate military rules of engagement" irrespective of who violates its airspace.

"Our rules of engagement are clear whoever violates our airspace," Davutoglu told Haber-Turk television in an interview.

"The Turkish Armed Forces are clearly instructed. Even it is a flying bird it will be intercepted," he added.

The Russian plane reportedly strayed into Turkey's airspace near the town of Yayladagi, in the Hatay province, prompting Turkey to scramble two F-16 jets to intercept the aircraft and force it to fly back into Syrian airspace.

Turkey then summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the violation of its airspace and demanded that Moscow avoid future infringements.

Rules of engagement

Turkey changed its rules of engagement a few years ago after Syria shot down a Turkish plane.

According to the new rules, Turkey said it would consider all "elements" approaching from Syria an enemy threat - and would act accordingly.

Following earlier accusations of Russian intrusion into Turkish airspace, the US European Command deployed six US Air Force F-15 fighters from their base in Britain to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on 6 November to help the NATO-member country secure its skies.

Sarah Lain, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, said the last time she knew of a NATO member country - the United States - shooting down a Russian/Soviet plane was in the 1950s.

"But the Soviets appear to have shot down more US planes amid the Cold War," she added.

Read more on the Russia-Turkey crisis over Syria
- NATO calls extraordinary meeting after Turkey downs Russian jet
- Russia jet in Turkish airspace 'was not the first'
- What was Russia's airforce doing near Turkey's borders anyway?
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Moscow attempts to contain damage

The Turkish army said the Russian Su-24 fighter jet had violated Turkish airspace 10 times within a five-minute period.

It was thereafter shot down by two Turkish F-16s.

Although Russia has angrily insisted that the plane was inside Syrian airspace, with President Vladimir Putin referring to the shooting down of the plane as "a stab in the back", some defence analysts believe Moscow is responding cautiously.

Natasha Kuhrt, lecturer in International Peace and Security at King's College London, said Russian television reports "have mainly been blaming the anti-Assad rebels inside Syria, and not mentioning Turkey at all. The general thrust is to try to play down this incident.

"Relations have been very strained between Russia and Turkey of late so Moscow will be trying its utmost to contain the damage this might cause," she said.

Shashank Joshi, also of defence-oriented think tank the Royal United Services Institute, said the large number of nations in the air over Syria had led to a dangerous and unpredictable situation.

He said there would be intense diplomatic efforts to defuse the situation, but the combination of crowded airspace, Russian probing of Turkey's border and diplomatic tensions between Moscow and Istanbul created a "real toxic cocktail that can easily erupt into crisis".