Tensions are soaring in the Black Sea tonight after Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian Su-24 over neighboring Syria. Turkey claimed the plane was in Turkish airspace when it was attacked, though US officials have said they believe the plane was inside Syria when it was attacked. Pentagon officials also say they are unsure if the Russian jet violated Turkish airspace at all.
Turkey informed the UN Security Council that it shot the plane down today, saying it had every right to do so. They also urged “consultations” with NATO, though the alliance appears to be urging Turkey to calm down and show a little restraint.
This is the first NATO downing of a Russian military plane since the 1950s, and is fueling concern of eventual retaliation by Russia after the incident, particularly with Turkey so loudly trumpeting their attack.
Both pilots ejected from the plane when it was hit by the Turkish warplanes, but were killed on the way down by ethnic Turkmen rebels in the region. Rebels issued photos of the slain pilots, and carried pieces of their parachutes as war trophies.
Russia had sent a helicopter to the area, looking to rescue the pilots, but the helicopter too was shot down, by rebels armed with US-provided Tow missiles. Reportedly the 10 on board the helicopter all survived, evacuating before it was destroyed outright.
While everyone else seems to be counseling caution after the incident, President Obama appeared quite supportive of the Turkish decision to attack a Russian plane, insisting the country “has the right to defend its territory.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin termed the Turkish attack a “stab in the back” by “accomplices of terrorists.” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov cancelled a planned visit to Turkey in protest, while several politicians in Russia are calling for more serious measures, like halting flights to the country.