Turkey warns Russia after warplane violates airspace


Turkey issued a sharp warning Monday after a Russian warplane, apparently operating inside Syria, violated Turkish airspace over the weekend.

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

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was convening a meeting of the military alliance’s ambassadors in the afternoon to discuss the incursion, speaking of “unacceptable violations.”

“Russia’s actions are not contributing to the security and stability of the region,” he said.

Davutoglu said the airspace violation would not cause tensions in the relations between Ankara and Moscow but issued a “friendly warning” over NATO-member 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,” Davutolgu 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.

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.

Russia, along with Iran, is a key backer of the Syrian government. Turkey is among the staunchest supporters of the Syrian opposition.

Western nations and Turkey have largely called for al-Assad to step down, though there are some signs of a shift among certain NATO members towards accepting the president as part of a transition.

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.