New details are surfacing about the Russian jet shot down by the Turkish military on November 24. The plane was bombing the Latakia region along the Turkey-Syria border where Turkmen rebels have been fighting both pro-Assad forces and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. The region is neither under ISIS control, nor is an active ISIS front.
Two pilots were aboard the plane, Captain Konstantin Murahtin and Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov. The two ejected from the aircraft when it was hit with a missile, then parachuted down toward Syria.
Russia Today is reporting that Peshkov was shot and killed by Turkmen rebels as he parachuted. President Putin is set to award him the Star of the Hero of Russia posthumously.
Murahtin landed safely in the northern hills of Latakia and, as the BBC notes, was rescued after a 12-hour special forces operation and taken to Hmeymim airbase in Syria.
The details of the Russian jet’s flight path remain hotly contested.
Surviving pilot Murahtin says that he was flying in a region he knows “very well” and insists that his plane never crossed into Turkey. Furthermore, he protests that, before he and Peshkov were attacked, “there was no warning, by radio exchange nor visually. There was no contact at all. The Turks did not get in touch with us.”
Meanwhile, Turkey maintains its claim that the Russian jet did, in fact, cross into its airspace and warned the plane 10 times before shooting it down. A spokesman for the American military, Colonel Steve Warren, supported Turkey’s claim. Turkey is a member of the NATO alliance.
Though Russia had come to an agreement at the recent G20 that it would help transition power in Syria away from President Bashar al-Assad, the Daily Mail UK cites rebel militants on the ground in Latakia claiming that the Russian aircraft was supporting pro-government forces and targeting Turkmen troops.
In Moscow, protests have erupted around the Turkish embassy. Meanwhile, Putin and other top Russian diplomats are considering retaliation measures, while warning Turkey against further attacks.
The Council on Foreign Relations notes that Turkey relies on Russia for gas, and thus isn’t likely to spin this incident into a larger crisis. Meanwhile, Reuters quotes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying, “we have no intention of fighting a war with Turkey.”
The Council on Foreign Relations also adds that if this incident does turn into a crisis it will derail efforts to mount an international response to ISIS – only helping the militant group.