President Vladimir Putin ordered state-of-the art air defence missile systems to be deployed at a Russian air base in Syria yesterday following the shooting down of one its fighter jets by Turkish warplanes.
The S-400 missile systems will be sent to the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, about 30 miles south of the border with Turkey. The systems have a range up to 250 miles and are capable of targeting Turkish jets with deadly precision. If Russia shot down a Turkish plane, Turkey could proclaim itself under attack and call for military assistance from its NATO allies.
Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber on Tuesday, saying it crossed into its airspace from Syria despite repeated warnings. One of its two pilots was killed by militants after bailing out, while his crewmate was rescued by Syrian army commandos and delivered in good condition to the Russian base early yesterday.
Putin said the Russian plane remained in Syria’s skies when it was shot down. He described Turkey’s action as a “crime” and a “stab in the back,” warning of serious consequences.
He said a warning from the Russian Foreign Ministry for Russians not to visit Turkey was needed “because we can’t exclude some other incidents following what happened and our citizens in Turkey could be in significant danger.”
Speaking from the base, the surviving navigator of the downed plane, Captain Konstantin Murakhtin, denied that their jet has veered into Turkey’s airspace “even for a single second.” He also rejected the Turkey’s claim that it had issued repeated warnings to the Russian crew before shooting down the plane.
“There have been no warnings whatsoever,” said Murakhtin, adding that he wants to keep flying missions from the base “to pay them back for my commander.”
Yesterday the Russian leader ordered the military to deploy the S-400s to Hemeimeem and take other measures that “should be sufficient to ensure flight safety.”
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the Russian missile cruiser Moskva already has moved closer to shore to protect the Russian aircraft flying missions near Syria’s border with Turkey with its long-range Fort air defence system.
“It will be ready to destroy any aerial target posing a potential danger,” Shoigu said. He also said that from now on all Russian bombers will be escorted by fighters on their combat missions in Syria. He said that his ministry has severed all contacts with the Turkish military.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who cancelled his planned trip to Turkey after the incident, described the shooting down of the Russian plane as a “planned provocation.”