ISTANBUL/NIZHNY TAGIL — Russia sent an advanced missile system to Syria yesterday to protect its jets operating there and pledged its air force would keep flying missions near Turkish air space, sounding a defiant note after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet.
Underscoring the message, Russian forces launched a heavy bombardment against insurgent-held areas in Latakia yesterday, near where the jet was downed, rebels and a monitoring group said.
The United States and Europe both urged calm and continued dialogue in telephone conversations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a sign of international concern at the prospect of any escalation between the former Cold War enemies.
The downing of the jet on Tuesday was one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a NATO member and Russia for half a century, and further complicated international efforts to battle Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.
The Kremlin sharpened its accusations yesterday as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the incident a “planned provocation” after discussions with Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu.
He also said the incident would affect efforts towards a political solution in Syria. Moscow would “seriously reconsider” its relations with Ankara, he said.
But Lavrov also tamped down speculation of a military response by Russia after the jet broke apart in flames along the Turkish-Syrian border. “We’re not going to war against Turkey,” he said after talks with his Turkish counterpart.
However, Moscow moved to strengthen its forces in Syria, saying new anti-missile systems would be deployed at an air base areound 30 kilometres from the Turkish frontier.
Lavrov’s comments offered the clearest signals that Moscow views the downing as more than an accidental mishap while Russia steps up its airstrikes in Syria to support the embattled government of President Bashar Assad.
The Russian diplomat did not elaborate on Moscow’s claims, but other officials raised unsupported theories that Turkey was sheltering the Islamic State from Russian attacks or was safeguarding lucrative oil smuggling routes used by the Islamic State. The allegations were not backed by any evidence, yet they reflect the deep suspicions harboured by Moscow toward Turkey and other NATO members.
Meanwhile, President Tayyip Erdogan made no apology, saying his nation had simply been defending its own security and the “rights of our brothers in Syria.” He made clear Turkish policy would not change.
Russian officials expressed fury over Turkey’s action and spoke of retaliatory measures that were likely to include curbing travel by Russian tourists to Turkish resorts and some restrictions on trade.
Jets believed to be Russian also hit a depot for trucks waiting to go through a major rebel-controlled border crossing with Turkey, Bab al-Salam, the head of the crossing said.
Syrian jets have struck the area before, but if confirmed to have been carried out by Russia, it would be one of Moscow’s closest airstrikes to Turkish soil, targeting a humanitarian corridor into rebel-held Syria and a lifeline for ordinary Syrians crossing to Turkey.
The S-400 missiles, which Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered sent to the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, just 50 kilometres away from the border with Turkey, are capable of striking targets within a 400-kilometre range with deadly precision.
The military also moved the navy missile cruiser Moskva closer to the shore to help protect Russian warplanes with its long-range Fort air defence system.
“It will be ready to destroy any aerial target posing a potential danger to our aircraft,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with military officials.
Herald with Reuters, The Washington Post, AP
Source:Bunos Aires Herald