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Turkey Claims It Shot Down A Russian Fighter Plane


Russia says one of its warplanes has been downed in Syria. There are conflicting reports about what happened. The Turkish military says it shot down a fighter jet after that plane violated Turkish airspace. NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us now from Moscow. Corey, what do we know so far?

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, Russia does now seem to have definitely concluded that Turkey did shoot the plane down. And President Putin reacted very angrily. He called the incident a stab in the back by the terrorist accomplices. And that would put Turkey squarely in what Russia sees as the enemy camp, you know. Of course, Turkey is a NATO country. And Russia has identified NATO as one of its greatest threats. But up until now, Russia’s been trying to keep relations with Turkey from deteriorating any further. But now Putin is saying that this will have significant consequences for the two countries’ relations.

WERTHEIMER: Turkey has said that the Russian jet violated its airspace. That’s a charge it’s made a number of times before.

FLINTOFF: That’s right. And the Turkish general staff says this Russian plane was in Turkish airspace. It was given ten warnings over a period of about five minutes before it was shot down by two Turkish F-16 jet fighters. Turkish news media have been airing a map that at least purports to show the Russian jet crossing the – a spid (ph) of Turkish land that projects into Syria. And that’s said to be where the violation took place. Russia insists that its plane was never in Turkish airspace at any time.

WERTHEIMER: Turkish media are also showing a video of a fighter jet spewing flames, spiraling down and crashing and then what appear to be two parachutes coming down near the site. What do we know about the pilots?

FLINTOFF: Well, a rebel group that’s associated with the Free Syrian Army says it recovered the body of one of the pilots who was dead when his parachute came down. And Turkish media are actually showing video of what appears to be a dead man in a Russian flight suit surrounded by rebel fighters. The rebels say that they’re looking for the second pilot. And now, of course, the Russians are also searching for those pilots. And they’ve had at least two combat helicopters flying over this region.

WERTHEIMER: We would assume that the Russian jet was involved in Russia’s bombing campaign against anti-government forces in Syria. But do we know what they were doing so close to the border?

FLINTOFF: Well, the Syrian side of the border in that area is inhabited by Turkmen. And they’re people of Turkish descent. They’re Sunni Muslims. And at least some of them are believed to sympathize with jihadis. The Turkish government sees itself as a supporter of these Turkmen. And Turkey has charged that Russian and Syrian government aircraft have been bombing civilians in Turkmen villages in this region.

WERTHEIMER: Corey, thank you very much. NPR’s Corey Flintoff, reporting from Moscow.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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