NATO allies condemn Russia after warplane violates Turkish airspace

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NATO ambassadors strongly protested Monday after a Russian warplane, apparently operating inside Syria, violated Turkish airspace over the weekend.

Turkey is a member of the 28-country military alliance.

NATO allies “condemn these incursions into and violations of NATO airspace,” the ambassadors said in a joint statement, while noting the “extreme danger of such irresponsible behaviour.”

“Russia’s actions are not contributing to the security and stability of the region,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who had summoned the ambassadors to discuss the incursion.

Earlier, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Russia had admitted it “mistakenly” entered the airspace. The Russian embassy confirmed that “such an incident took place,” according to the Interfax news agency.

Davutoglu said the airspace violation would not cause tensions in the relations between Ankara and Moscow but issued a “friendly warning” over Turkey’s sovereignty.

“Whoever it is, no matter from where it is, no matter the direction, our rules of engagement for violations of our airspace are clear,” the premier said, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Earlier, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the Russian ambassador and that Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu was in contact with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

If there were any future violations, Moscow “will be responsible for any undesired incident that may occur,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the Russian aircraft exited Turkish airspace into Syria after it was intercepted by two F-16s from the air force.

The Turkish military, meanwhile, said that on Sunday a MiG-29 fighter jet, of an unidentified nationality, locked radar for five minutes and fourty seconds and harassed two Turkish F-16 fighter jets that were patrolling the border with Syria.

Russia’s Defence Ministry has said it is using Sukhoi aircraft on bombing missions against the Islamic State extremist group. The Syrian military uses Russian-made MiG-29s.

Russia said last week it had begun airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria, and claims its efforts have significantly weakened the al-Qaeda splinter group, which is also referred to as Da’esh.

Syrian opposition forces have said the Russian strikes have largely targeted rebel groups, including hardline Islamist factions like Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.

The strikes seem to be focused on frontline areas where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are facing losses to the rebel factions, especially in the provinces of Idlib and Hama in the north.

Rebels control nearly all of Idlib, with just a few villages remaining under the control of the government.

NATO allies expressed “deep concern” at the Russian military buildup in Syria, especially “the attacks by the Russian air force on Hama, Homs and Idlib which led to civilian casualties and did not target Da’esh.”

Russia, along with Iran, is a key backer of the Syrian government, and has been accused of targeting its airstrikes to support the Assad regime, rather than defeat terrorists.

“The solution [to the Syrian conflict] cannot happen through having Russia, allied with President Assad, bombing legitimate opposition forces,” EU President Donald Tusk said in Brussels, at a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey is among the staunchest supporters of the Syrian opposition.

The civil war in Syrian has been ongoing since 2011, when al-Assad harshly cracked down on mostly peaceful protests. Since then, more than 240,000 people are estimated to have died.

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