Russia’s defence ministry has announced suspension of military cooperation with Turkey and Sergey Lavrov, foreign minister, has cancelled a planned trip to Turkey following the downing of a Russian warplane near the Turkey-Syria border on Tuesday.
The Russian Sukhoi Su-24 warplane was shot down for allegedly violating Turkish airspace, angering Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who compared the incident to being “stabbed in the back”.
Russia also warned its citizens not to travel to Turkey, saying it was unsafe, and deployed a warship to the coastline near where the plane crashed.
The plane crashed in Syrian territory in Latakia’s Yamadi village.
One of the two Russian pilots who ejected from the jet was picked up by the Syrian army and is being taken to Russia’s base there, Russia’s ambassador to France said on Wednesday.
Alexandre Orlov told Europe 1 radio: “One on board was wounded when he parachuted down and killed in a savage way on the ground by the jihadists in the area.
“The other managed to escape and, according to the latest information, has been picked up by the Syrian army and should be going back to the Russian air force base.”
A Russian helicopter was also shot at on Tuesday as it took part in the search for the two pilots near the Turkish-Syrian border, opposition groups in Syria said.
Turkey, Russia and their respective allies have entered a war of words after the incident, raising tensions in a region struggling to cope with the ongoing Syrian conflict.
Putin sharply criticised Turkey for establishing contact with NATO to discuss the incident, prior to contacting Russia.
“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.
“Instead of immediately establishing contacts with us, as far as we know Turkey turned to its NATO partners to discuss this incident – as if we had hit their plane and not the other way around,” he said.
Russia has been carrying out air strikes in Syria since September, saying it is targeting ISIL and al-Nusra Front.
The Syrian opposition and Western powers, however, say the Russian strikes have mainly targeted rebel groups fighting the Syrian government – an ally of Russia.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, 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,” he said in Ankara.
“Turkey will not hesitate to take all steps to protect the country’s security.”
While NATO called for the two nations to show restraint, Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance secretary-general, said: “We stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally.”
The US also backed Turkey’s right to defend its territory.
President Barack Obama said while the US did not have enough information to form conclusions about the incident, similar confrontations could be avoided if Russia stopped attacking “moderate” Syrian rebels who are battling forces loyal to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“This points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are operating very close to a Turkish border and they are going after moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government backed its key ally Russia, with a military official telling the state SANA news agency that by shooting down the Russian plane, Turkey had committed “a gross violation of Syrian sovereignty”.
“The desperate acts of aggression will only increase our determination to continue the war against the terrorist organisations with the support and help of Syria’s friends, mainly Russia,” the official said.
A major point of contention is whether the Russian jet crossed into Turkish airspace, with the two nations releasing their own satellite images showing conflicting views of the jet’s final flight path.
A US official told Al Jazeera that the penetration of Turkish airspace by the Russian jet lasted “only a matter of seconds” as it crossed a roughly 3km wide section of Turkey that took only 20 seconds to traverse.
Russia, however, vehemently denied that its plane ever crossed into Turkish airspace.