Turkey’s prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday said his country’s air force would intercept any plane that violated national airspace after the government reported a Russian jet entered its territory at the weekend.
Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to “strongly protest” against the violation near the Syrian border on Saturday. Two Turkish F-16s intercepted the plane, forcing it back into Syria, the government said.
It demanded that “any such violation not be repeated”, otherwise Russia “will be responsible for any undesired incident that may occur”.
Davutoglu later on Monday told Haber-Turk television: “Our rules of engagement are clear whoever violates our air space. The Turkish Armed Forces are clearly instructed. Even it is a flying bird it will be intercepted,” he added.
A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said on Monday that Russia’s violation was probably deliberate.
“I don’t believe that this was an accident,” the official said. “This just affirms our deep concern over what they are doing. It continues to call into question their intent and certainly raises questions about basic self-conduct (and) professional behaviour in the skies.”
Russia began airstrikes in Syria last week to assist the government of President Bashar al-Assad, saying it would attack “extremists” including the Islamic State militant group.
However, Prime Minister Davutoglu said Syria was “not a Turkey-Russia crisis”.
“Our channels with Russia remain open,” he said, hoping that Moscow would give up on “wrong attitudes”.
Ankara said two of its F-16 jets intercepted the Russian fighter after it infringed Turkish airspace at 12:08pm (0908 GMT) on Saturday south of the Yayladagi region in Turkey’s southern Hatay province.
Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu called his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov to convey Ankara’s unease, the statement said.
He also made telephone conversations with counterparts from NATO allies, as well as NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, the ministry said.
The Turkish army also reported on Monday that two of its F-16s had been “harassed” by a MIG-29 jet on Sunday in an apparent second incident near the Turkish-Syrian border. The statement, reported by Anadolu news agency, however said the army was unable to determine which air force the jet belonged to. MIG-29s are Russian-made but also flown by the Syrian air force.
Russia and Turkey have long been at odds over the crisis in Syria, with Moscow emerging as Assad’s key international backer and Ankara calling for his overthrow and aiding rebel groups fighting the Assad government.
Turkey has labelled Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria as “unacceptable”, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning that Moscow was making a “grave mistake”.
SOURCE: Middle East Eye, agencies