ANKARA – Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian-made warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday after repeatedly warning it over air space violations, Turkish officials said, but Moscow said it could prove the jet had not left Syrian air space.
Turkish presidential sources said the warplane was a Russian-made SU-24. The Turkish military, which did not confirm the plane’s origin, said it had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish airspace.
Russia’s defense ministry said one of its fighter jets had been downed in Syria, apparently after coming under fire from the ground, but said it could prove the plane was over Syria for the duration of its flight, Interfax news agency reported.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was briefed by the head of the military, while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu ordered consultations with NATO, the United Nations and related countries, their respective offices said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the warplane crashed in a mountainous area in the northern countryside of Latakia province, where there had been aerial bombardment earlier and where pro-government forces have been battling insurgents on the ground.
Both Russia and its ally, Syria’s government, have carried out strikes in the area. A Syrian military source said the reported downing was being investigated.
Footage from private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV showed the warplane going down in flames in a woodland area, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it. The plane went down in area known by Turks as “Turkmen Mountain,” it said.
Separate footage from Turkey’s Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed.
One of the pilots was in the hands of Turkmen forces in Syria who were searching for the other pilot, broadcaster CNN Turk reported, citing local sources.
Turkey called this week for a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss attacks on Turkmens in neighboring Syria, and last week Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the bombing of their villages.
Ankara has traditionally expressed solidarity with Syrian Turkmens, who are Syrians of Turkish descent.
About 1,700 people have fled the mountainous Syrian area to the Turkish border as a result of fighting in the last three days, a Turkish official said on Monday. Russian jets have bombed the area in support of ground operations by Syrian government forces.
Report: Russian ground troops arrive in Syria in unprecedented military action
In an unprecedented move, Russia has sent ground-troops into the Syrian battlefield in support of Bashar Assad as the dictator struggles to maintain his power in the continuous four-year-long civil war, according to a report by Kuwaiti daily al-Rai.
The report, which has not been substantiated by other sources, claims Russian military forces have been providing cover for T-90 tanks along with military air support which have attacked multiple strategic targets held by rebel forces in Idlib and Latakia.
In September, multiple US officials claimed that Russia had positioned about a half dozen tanks at a Syrian airfield at the center of a military buildup.
One US official said seven Russian T-90 tanks were observed at the airfield near Latakia, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Kuwaiti report adds that Russian forces have already taken over multiple strategic positions and have forced numerous rebel battalions to retreat. The report did not disclose whether there were Russian army casualties.
Over the last three months, Russia has steadily increased its participation in the Syrian domestic conflict, launching airstrikes from its bases in western Syria as it drops thousands of sorties on enemy targets.
Along with airstrikes, Russia has also increased its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea along the Syrian coast while it coordinates with Iranian military forces and Hezbollah.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on several past occasions that his country had no intention of sending boots on the ground to participate in the Syrian civil war.
If the report is correct, it could signify a dramatic shift in Russian policy, or merely be a one-time specific action.