Russia deploys missile cruiser off Syria, says will target threats
Moscow has deployed a missile cruiser off the coast of Syria after Turkish warplanes downed a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian-Turkish border.
According to Russian media on Tuesday, missile cruiser Moskva equipped with the Fort air defense system similar to S-300 will be stationed off the coast of Syria’s western province of Latakia.
“We warn that every target posing a potential threat will be destroyed,” lieutenant general Sergey Rudskoy, a top official with the Russian General Staff, said.
Russia has also announced that it will halt all military cooperation with Turkey following the attack.
“All military contacts with Turkey will be suspended,” Rudskoy added.
The Turkish air force shot down the plane on Tuesday and said the shooting came after the plane was warned “ten times” for violating the Turkish airspace. The Russian Defense Ministry, however, said it could prove the aircraft was over Syria during its entire flight.
Rudskoy said Turkish fighter jets had made no attempts to contact Russian pilots before launching the attack.
“We assume the strike was carried out with a close range missile with an infra-red seeker,” he said. “The Turkish jet made no attempts to communicate or establish visual contact with our crew that our equipment would have registered. The Su-24 was hit by the missile over Syria’s territory.”
President Vladimir Putin of Russia described Turkey’s downing as a “stab in the back,” and added that the aircraft was shot down over the territory of Syria with an air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16 warplane. He said the jet fell on the Syrian territory about four kilometers (2.5 miles) from Turkey.
There have been conflicting reports over the fate of the two Russian pilots. Turkish media said militants in Syria have captured one of the pilots after both of them ejected. Syrian opposition sources said one pilot is dead and another missing.
A video uploaded by the militants in Syria on social media purportedly showed a Russian pilot who appears to be lifeless or incapacitated on the ground. An official from the group told Reuters that the man was dead.
Later in the day, an unnamed Turkish official said the two pilots are believed to be alive, noting, “Right now Turkey is trying to recover them.”
Following the jet’s downing, the Russian General Staff said militants in Syria had shelled and damaged one of the Mi-8 helicopters taking part in the search and rescue operation for the pilots of the downed Russian Su-24 jet.
A Russian marine was killed in the incident, while the rest of the crew and servicemen on board were evacuated to Russia’s Hmeymim Airbase in Syria, it said.
NATO support for Turkey
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has expressed the Western military alliance’s support for Turkey after an emergency meeting of all the 28 members requested by Ankara over the incident.
“As we have repeatedly made clear, we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally, Turkey,” Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief, however, called on the governments of Russia and Turkey to exercise restraint, saying, “I look forward to further contacts between Ankara and Moscow and call for calm and de-escalation. Diplomacy and de-escalation are important to resolve this situation.”
The incident comes as Moscow is involved in an aerial military campaign against Takfiri terrorists in Syria, which started on September 30 upon a request by the government in Damascus.