Putin Sends Air Defense Missiles to Syria to Deter Turkey

November 25, 2015 Updated: November 25, 2015
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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered state-of-the art air defense missile systems to be deployed at a Russian air base in Syria following the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey, a move that raised the threat of a military confrontation between the NATO member and Russia.

The S-400 missile systems, which will be sent to the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, located just about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the border with Turkey, are capable of targeting Turkish jets with deadly precision. If Russia shot down a Turkish plane, NATO would be required to intervene.

Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber 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.

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.

On Wednesday, Putin ordered the military to deploy the S-400s to Hemeimeem and took other measures that “should be sufficient to ensure flight safety.”

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday 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 defense system.

Shoigu 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.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who canceled his planned trip to Turkey after the incident, described the shooting down of the Russian plane as a “planned provocation.”

He said the Turkish action came after Russian planes successfully targeted the oil infrastructure used by the Islamic State, alleging that Turkey benefited from the oil trade.

In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. showing a Russian Su-24M during a Russian air raid in Syria. Russia has been carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State group fighters in Syria since the end of September at the request of President Bashar Assad, Russia's long-term ally. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. showing a Russian Su-24M during a Russian air raid in Syria. Russia has been carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State group fighters in Syria since the end of September at the request of President Bashar Assad, Russia’s long-term ally. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

A Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 bomber drops bombs on a target in Syria in November 2015 as part of a Russian air campaign against targets in Syria. Russian long-range bombers and navy ships have launched 101 cruise missiles in four days, including 18 fired by Russian navy ships from the Caspian Sea on Nov. 20, according to Russian Defense Ministry. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
A Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 bomber drops bombs on a target in Syria in November 2015 as part of a Russian air campaign against targets in Syria. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Lavrov also said that Turkish territory was used by “terrorists” to prepare terror attacks in other countries, but offered no details.

He said that Russia “has no intention to go to war with Turkey,” but added that Moscow will re-consider its ties with Ankara.

The Russian Foreign Ministry already has warned Russians against traveling to Turkey, and some leading Russian tourist agencies suspended the sales of tour packages to Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his country does not wish to escalate tensions with Russia over the downing of the plane.

Speaking at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation economy meeting in Istanbul, Erdogan said that Turkey favors “peace, dialogue and diplomacy.” He defended his country’s move to shoot down the plane saying: “no one should expect Turkey to stay silent to border violations or the violation of its rights.”

FILE - In this undated photo from files a S-300 air defense missile is launched in Ashuluk shooting range in southern Russia. The head of a Russian state-controlled industrial conglomerate says the contract for the delivery of S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran has been finalized. (AP Photo, File)
FILE – In this undated photo from files a S-300 air defense missile is launched in Ashuluk shooting range in southern Russia. The head of a Russian state-controlled industrial conglomerate says the contract for the delivery of S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran has been finalized. (AP Photo, File)

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also sought to ease tensions, saying that Russia is Turkey’s “friend and neighbor” and insisting relations cannot be “sacrificed to accidents of communication.”

Davutoglu told his party’s lawmakers on Wednesday that Turkey didn’t know the nationality of the plane that was brought down on Tuesday until Moscow announced it was Russian.

He again defended Turkey’s action, saying Russia was warned on several occasions that Turkey would take action in case its border is violated in line with its military rules of engagement.

Davutoglu also said Russia is an “important partner and tops the list of countries with which we have shown great sensitivity in building ties.”

The Turkish prime minister, however, also criticized Russian and Syrian operations in Syria’s Turkmen region, saying there is “not one single” presence of the Islamic State group there. Davutoglu demanded that operations there stop immediately.