Turkey Will Release Body of Russian Pilot

Vladimir Putin, bomber shot down

photo composition by Thursday Review

Turkey Will Release Body of
Russian Pilot

| published November 29, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff


Turkish authorities will turn over the body of a Russian pilot killed when Turkish jet fighters shot down a Russian bomber last week. Speaking in Ankara, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the pilot’s body was being treated in full accordance with Orthodox (Eastern Orthodox Christian) tradition, and that the pilot’s remains had been recovered near the Syrian border with Turkey. A small Russian military contingent will meet with Turkish authorities in the Hatay Province, in southern Turkey, where a decision will be made about how to transport the pilot’s body back to Russia next week.

Tensions between the Russia and Turkey have deteriorated in the last week after the Turkish military shot down a Russian SU-24 heavy bomber on Tuesday. According to Turkish military authorities, the Russian plane violated Turkey’s airspace along the curvilinear border which divides Syria from Turkey at the Hatay Province on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey says that its military air traffic controllers repeatedly warned the plane that it was entering Turkish airspace. Russia says its pilots received no warnings, and have further declared that the plane never crossed into Turkey’s airspace at any time during the melee. Turkish jet fighters scrambled and briefly pursued the high speed bomber, then, using air-to-air missiles, turned the bomber into a fireball which was seen for many miles as it blazed across the sky before crashing into anti-Assad rebel-controlled areas along the border with Syria. Scores of people on the ground used smart phone cameras to capture images of the high-tech bomber as it trailed a 1,000 foot long tail of flames.

One of the plane’s two Russian pilots was able to eject and parachute safely to the ground; the other died, apparently in the process of attempting to eject. Syrian army commandos were able to rescue the surviving pilot after a 12-hour search and rescue operation.

The incident sparked extreme tensions between Turkey and Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the shoot-down a “stab in the back” and angrily told reporters that Turkey was aiding and abetting terrorist armies. Putin vowed to fire upon—and destroy—any further ground or air-based threats to Russian military hardware, and ordered the deployment of a state-of-the-art anti-missile weapon system to the border. The S-400 anti-missile system is considered by military experts to be both accurate and lethal. It was first deployed and used during the civil war in Eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are fighting troops loyal to Kiev.

Last week Putin also imposed economic sanctions and trade restrictions on Turkey.

The shoot-down comes in the midst of a complex, multi-front war in Syria and northern Iraq. In addition to Russian planes now engaged in daily bombing runs over rebel-controlled areas of Syria, Turkish warplanes now routinely patrol its long border with Syria. Fighter jets, cruise missiles, bombers, and drones of the United States, Britain, and France are engaged in aerial attacks on ISIS positions and strongholds on the ground in Syria and Iraq. Other Arab nations have also joined the battle at various times, including the air power of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Beginning in mid-November the U.S. was charged with managing deconfliction between the air powers, but some Russian air strikes are taking place entirely under the direction of Russian and Syrian commanders.

Making matters tricky for the United States: Turkey is a member of NATO, which means that if Russia retaliates militarily against Turkey, NATO is bound by the terms of its commitment to fellow-member states to intervene on Turkey’s behalf. Such an intervention would greatly complicate the already delicate alignment of powers now engaged in the fight against ISIS.

It is the first time since the creation of NATO that a member nation has shot down a Russian plane.

The incident also comes at a time of maximum concern about the reach of the Islamic State. ISIS-backed militants are believed to have planted the bomb which brought down a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula in late October. The plane exploded about 25 minutes after takeoff from a Red Sea resort in Egypt—destroyed, according to U.S. and Russian officials, by a bomb smuggled aboard by airport ground crew. Weeks ago, ISIS militants launched a series of attacks in Paris, killing 130 people and injuring some 350 more. Islamic extremist attacks have also taken place in Mali, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, and Afghanistan, where ISIS seeks to supplant al Qaeda as the dominant force of radical jihad.

While attempting to tamp down rhetoric, Prime Minister Davutoglu has called Russia a friend and good neighbor, but the Prime Minister has also stressed that Turkey will not concede control of its airspace to any of the air powers now fighting ISIS inside Syria.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Russian Bomber Incident May Pose Challenge for NATO; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; November 25, 2015.

French Airstrikes Continue Over Syria; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; November 18, 2015.