NATO has called on Turkey and Russia to show restraint as tensions rise in the wake of the downing of a Russian jet near the Turkey-Syria border.
The Russian warplane was shot down for violating Turkish airspace on Tuesday morning, Turkish officials said, angering Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who likened the incident to being “stabbed in the back”.
According to Russia Today, Russia’s defence ministry has announced that it is suspending its military cooperation with Turkey following the incident.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday night that the military alliance stands by key ally Turkey, but urged both sides to try to calm the crisis.
“As we have repeatedly made clear, we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally, Turkey,” Stoltenberg said after an emergency meeting of all 28 members requested by Ankara.
“I look forward to further contacts between Ankara and Moscow and call for calm and de-escalation. Diplomacy and de-escalation are important to resolve this situation,” he said.
Turkish officials told Al Jazeera the Russian plane was shot down by the Turkish military according to the rules of engagement, but Putin said the jet posed no threat.
“Today’s loss is linked to a stab in the back delivered to us by accomplices of terrorists. I cannot qualify what happened today as anything else,” Putin said in televised comments.
“Our plane was shot down over the territory of Syria by an air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16 jet. It fell in Syrian territory four kilometres from the border with Turkey. Our pilots and our plane did not in any way threaten Turkey.”
Reports said the plane, believed to be a Russian-made Sukhoi Su-24, crashed in Syrian territory in Latakia’s Yamadi village.
A Turkish military statement said the plane violated Turkish airspace in Hatay province and was warned “10 times in five minutes”.
“Our two F-16 planes on air patrol duty intervened … on November 24, 2015, 9:24am, according to the rules of engagement,” the statement said.
A US official told Al Jazeera that the penetration of Turkish air space by the Russian jet lasted “only a matter of seconds” as it crossed a lroughly 3km wide section of Turkey that took only 20 seconds to traverse.
The fate of the two Russian pilots, however, is unclear.
Rebel forces told Al Jazeera the bodies of both pilots were recovered, but Russia’s military has said only one pilot was killed. Moscow has not yet said what happened to the second pilot.
The deputy commander of a Turkmen brigade, located close to where the plane crashed, said the two Russian pilots were shot dead as they parachuted to the ground.
“Our comrades shot at them in the air and they were dead when they hit the ground,” he said. “They…died in the air.”
That claim, however, cannot be independently verified.
A Russian helicopter was also shot as it took part in the search for the two pilots near the Turkish-Syrian border, opposition groups in Syria said. Russia confirmed that one of the helicopter’s crew members was shot dead in the incident.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had a duty to act against anyone violating its borders.
“Everyone must know that it is our international right and national duty to take any measure against whoever violates our air or land borders,” Davutoglu said in Ankara.
Turkey’s foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned representatives from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to brief them on the downing of the Russian fighter jet, a Turkish official said.
Davutoglu has ordered the foreign ministry to consult NATO, the UN and related countries on the developments, his office said in a statement on Tuesday.
Last month, Davutoglu said Russia had described its warplane’s violation of Turkey’s airspace as a “mistake”.
A Russian aircraft had entered Turkish airspace near the Syrian border, prompting Turkey to scramble two F-16 jets to intercept it and summon Russia’s ambassador in protest.
“The Turkish armed forces are clearly instructed. Even if it is a flying bird it will be intercepted,” Davutoglu said at the time.
He warned Turkey’s enemies and allies not to infringe on its airspace but he dismissed the notion of tensions with Russia.