Relations between Syria and Turkey have hit an all time low as cross-border fighting left five Turkish civilians dead. Earlier this week, Turkey intercepted a Syria-bound plane saying it was carrying Russian-made defense equipment – a claim Russia denies.
So far Turkey and Russia have been quite successful in separating their bilateral relationship from the dispute over Syria but increasingly now the ties between them are becoming more fraught, more complicated. We can see a negative tone emerging... but there is a risk they will start conflating should the disagreements continue.
The plane was en route from Moscow to Damascus and was forced to land in Ankara, where authorities confiscated the cargo.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, says the plane was carrying military supplies: “The equipment, tools, material and ammunition was being sent from a Russian agency that’s equivalent to our machinery and chemistry agency, to the Syrian defense ministry. This equipment is now being examined by our relevant units.”
But so far Turkey has not supplied any evidence of what it says it has seized, and Russia has denied sending any weapons to Syria, although Sergey Lavarov, the Russian foreign minister, confirmed that the cargo included legal radar equipment.
“Because of the various speculations on the incident with the Syrian plane, I would like to say that we don’t have any secrets. We checked on the situation. Of course, there were no arms on the plane and they couldn’t be there. On the plane was cargo that the legal Russian supplier sent by legal means to the legal customer. This cargo is electric equipment for radars. Dual purpose equipment, but not forbidden by any international conventions,” Lavrov said.
Syria has called the incident an act of piracy and a violation of international law. Syrian state television showed pictures of what it said were armed Turkish soldiers moments before they confiscated the cargo. It said the troops humiliated the plane’s crew by handcuffing them and treating them roughly.
This latest development is yet another sign of the deteriorating relations between Turkey and Syria. Recent mortar fire from Syria into Turkey had already strained their relationship.
Turkey has since released the passenger jet and its crew but the incident caused a diplomatic dispute between Russia and Turkey that has emphasised the continuing rift between regional and international powers over which side to support in the war inside Syria.
Syria has announced a ban on Turkish civilian flights over its territory in a move it says is in retaliation for a similar Turkish ban on Syrian flights.
Inside Syria, with presenter Hazem Sika, speaks to guests: Fadi Hakura, a specialist on Turkey with the British think-tank Chatham House; Bassam Imadi, a foreign relations representative of the Syrian National Council. He is also Syria’s former ambassador to Sweden; and Vyacheslav Matusov, a former Russian diplomat.
“He [Vyacheslav Matusov] is complaining about a few boxes [of radar equipment] – but these few boxes are sensitive equipment that make other killing machines work. So I think one should now face the truth about it: Russia is supporting fully this regime and is becoming a partner in killing the Syrian people – and I am very sorry for that because we used to love the Russians because we have so many Russians among us in Syria … What the Russian government is doing is bad for the future relations between the Syrian people and the Russian people.”
Bassam Imadi, a foreign relations representative of the Syrian National Council
- Turkey scrambled fighter jets close to the border with Syria on Friday
- Jets deployed in response to Syrian helicopter flying near the border
- Tension between Turkey and Syria has soared in recent weeks
- Last week five Turks were killed after cross-border shelling from Syria
- Ankara got parliamentary nod for military action against Syria
- There is concern tension could lead to war between the two countries
- Russia denies wrongdoing, says plane was carrying radar equipment
- US insists Turkey was right to intercept Russian weapons