Russian jets in Turkish airspace 'no accident', says NATO

Russian jets in Turkish airspace 'no accident', says NATO
NATO's secretary-general on Tuesday rejected Moscow's claim that its military incursion into alliance airspace over Turkey wasn't intentional, saying violation lasted for a "long time."
4 min read
06 October, 2015
US-led NATO says Russia is acting irresponsibly in Syria [Getty]

Turkey's military said Tuesday that eight Turkish F-16 jet patrolling the Turkish-Syrian border were harassed by a MIG-29 plane as well as surface-to-air missile systems based in Syria in two separate incidents on Monday.  

It was the second successive harassment of Turkish planes reported by Turkey. The MIG-29 locked radar on the planes for 4 minutes and 30 seconds, while the missile systems threatened the planes for 4 minutes and 15 seconds, the military said. 

The incidents over Turkish airspace drew a strong response from NATO on Tuesday which rejected Moscow's explanation that its warplanes violated the air space of alliance member Turkey by mistake.  

The Alliance's chief Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference in Brussels that recent breaches of Turkish airspace by Russian warplanes were "very serious"- even dangerous.

Stoltenberg told reporters he was also concerned that in Syria the Russians are not mainly targeting the Islamic State extremist group, "but instead attacking the Syrian opposition and civilians."

On Monday, NATO ambassadors met in special session and condemned what they termed Russia's "irresponsible behaviour" in penetrating alliance airspace. The ambassadors also called on Russia to cease such practices. 

NATO defence ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels on Thursday, and the actions of the Russian military in Syria and any measures the US-led alliance needs to take as a result will be among the leading topics.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed NATO's stance, and pointedly warned the Russians that if such actions continue, relations between the two neighboring

     The Russian attacks have largely focused on the north western and central provinces.

countries on the Black Sea could go into a deep freeze. 

"Any attack on Turkey is an attack on NATO," Erdogan said. "If Russia loses a friend like Turkey with whom it has cooperated on many issues, it will lose a lot."   

Russia's Defense Ministry rejected claims that its airstrikes in Syria are targeting civilians or opposition forces.  

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a televised briefing on Tuesday that Western media is engaged in "information warfare," distributing "pure propaganda" about alleged civilian deaths caused in Syria. 

Russia says the airstrikes that began last week are targeting IS and al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliates, but at least some of the strikes appear to have hit Western-backed rebel factions. The Russian attacks have largely focused on the north western and central provinces, the gateways to the heartland of Assad's power in the capital and on the Mediterranean coast.   

The main Western-backed Syrian opposition group said Russia's airstrikes have damaged an archaeological in the northwestern village of Serjilla in Idlib province.   

The Syrian National Coalition said the attacked area didn't have any IS presence, adding that airstrikes occurred on Sunday and damaged an Assyrian site.   

The group called on the UN's cultural agency UNESCO to condemn the Russian airstrike and preserve archaeological sites in Syria.   

"It doesn't look like an accident, and we've seen two of them over the weekend," he added.  

Meanwhile, the Syrian air force was said to have targeted areas in rural Latakia controlled by militants, with the military official reporting the death of at least 12 fighters, including two Turks, one Saudi militant from al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Nusra Front, and one Palestinian.   

Washington 'concerned'

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US was "quite concerned" by Russia's action, describing it as a provocation. 

US Secretary of State John Kerry also expressed concern, telling reporters during a trip to Chile that the incident could have led to Turkey shooting down the Russian plane, and that Russia has a responsibility to act within international standards.   
The US is leading a coalition that is carrying out airstrikes in Syria, as well as Iraq, against IS militants. Russia maintains its air campaign came at the request of the Damascus government, unlike the coalition's military action.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the various air campaigns in Syria create "a situation that is fraught with danger and very delicate, as we'd seen in the issue of the violation of the airspace with Turkey."