Facts Back Russia on Turkish Attack

Turkey claims its Nov. 24 shoot-down of a Russian warplane along the Syrian border was justified — and the Obama administration is publicly siding with its NATO ally — but a review of the evidence supports Russian accusations of an “ambush,” writes Gareth Porter for Middle East Eye.

By Gareth Porter

The United States and its NATO allies offered a ritual of NATO unity after Turkish officials presented their case that the shoot-down of a Russian jet occurred after two planes had penetrated Turkish airspace. The Turkish representative reportedly played a recording of a series warning the Turkish F-16 pilots had issued to the Russian jets without a Russian response, and U.S. and other NATO member states endorsed Turkey’s right to defend its airspace.

U.S. Defense Department spokesman Colonel Steve Warren supported the Turkish claim that 10 warnings had been issued over a period of five minutes. The Obama administration apparently expressed less concern about whether Russian planes had actually crossed into Turkish airspace. Col. Warren admitted that U.S. officials have still yet to establish where the Russian aircraft was located when a Turkish missile hit the plane.

Video of the Russian SU-24 exploding in flames inside Syrian territory after it was shot down by Turkish air-to-air missiles on Nov. 24, 2015.

Video of the Russian SU-24 exploding in flames inside Syrian territory after it was shot down by Turkish air-to-air missiles on Nov. 24, 2015.

Although the Obama administration is not about to admit it, the data already available supports the Russian assertion that the Turkish shoot-down was, as Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted, an “ambush” that had been carefully prepared in advance. The central Turkish claim that its F-16 pilots had warned the two Russian aircraft 10 times during a period of five minutes actually is the primary clue that Turkey was not telling the truth about the shoot-down.

The Russian Su-24 “Fencer” jet fighter, which is comparable to the U.S. F-111, is capable of a speed of 960 miles per hour at high altitude, but at low altitude its cruising speed is around 870 mph, or about 13 miles per minute. The navigator of the second plane confirmed after his rescue that the Su-24s were flying at cruising speed during the flight.

Close analysis of both the Turkish and Russian images of the radar path of the Russian jets indicates that the earliest point at which either of the Russian planes was on a path that might have been interpreted as taking it into Turkish airspace was roughly 16 miles from the Turkish border meaning that it was only a minute and 20 seconds away from the border.

Furthermore according to both versions of the flight path, five minutes before the shoot-down the Russian planes would have been flying eastward – away from the Turkish border.

If the Turkish pilots actually began warning the Russian jets five minutes before the shoot-down, therefore, they were doing so long before the planes were even headed in the general direction of the small projection of the Turkish border in Northern Latakia province. In order to carry out the strike, in fact, the Turkish pilots would have had to be in the air already and prepared to strike as soon as they knew the Russian aircraft were airborne.

The evidence from the Turkish authorities themselves thus leaves little room for doubt that the decision to shoot down the Russian jet was made before the Russian jets even began their flight.

The motive for the strike was directly related to the Turkish role in supporting the anti-Assad forces in the vicinity of the border. In fact, the Erdogan government made no effort to hide its aim in the days before the strike. In a meeting with the Russian ambassador on Nov. 20, the foreign minister accused the Russians of “intensive bombing” of “civilian Turkmen villages” and said there might be “serious consequences” unless the Russians ended their operations immediately.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was even more explicit, declaring that Turkish security forces “have been instructed to retaliate against any development that would threaten Turkey’s border security.” Davutoglu further said: “If there is an attack that would lead to an intense influx of refugees to Turkey, required measures would be taken both inside Syria and Turkey.”

The Turkish threat to retaliate not against Russian penetration of its airspace but in response to very broadly defined circumstances on the border came amid the latest in a series of battles between the Syrian government and religious fighters.

The area where the plane was shot down is populated by the Turkmen minority. They have been far less important than foreign fighters and other forces who have carried out a series of offensives in the area since mid-2013 aimed at threatening President Bashar al-Assad’s main Alawite redoubt on the coast in Latakia province.

Charles Lister, the British specialist who was visiting Latakia province frequently in 2013, noted in an August 2013 interview, “Latakia, right up to the very northern tip [i.e. in the Turkmen Mountain area], has been a stronghold for foreign fighter-based groups for almost a year now.” He also observed that, after Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) had emerged in the north, al-Nusra Front and its allies in the area had “reached out” to ISIL and that one of the groups fighting in Latakia had “become a front group” for ISIL.

In March 2014, the religious rebels launched a major offensive with heavy Turkish logistical support to capture the Armenian town of Kessab on the Mediterranean coast of Latakia very close to the Turkish border. An Istanbul newspaper, Bagcilar, quoted a member of the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee as reporting testimony from villagers living near the border that thousands of fighters had streamed across five different border points in cars with Syrian plates to participate in the offensive.

During that offensive, moreover, a Syrian jet responding to the offensive against Kessab was shot down by the Turkish air force in a remarkable parallel to the downing of the Russian jet. Turkey claimed that the jet had violated its airspace but made no pretence about having given any prior warning. The purpose of trying to deter Syria from using its airpower in defense of the town was obvious.

Now the battle in Latakia province has shifted to the Bayirbucak area, where the Syrian air force and ground forces have been trying to cut the supply lines between villages controlled by Nusra Front and its allies and the Turkish border for several months. The key village in the Nusra Front area of control is Salma, which has been in jihadist hands ever since 2012. The intervention of the Russian Air Force in the battle has given a new advantage to the Syrian army.

The Turkish shoot-down was thus in essence an effort to dissuade the Russians from continuing their operations in the area against al-Nusra Front and its allies, using not one but two distinct pretexts: on one hand a very dubious charge of a Russian border penetration for NATO allies, and on the other, a charge of bombing Turkmen civilians for the Turkish domestic audience.

The Obama administration’s reluctance to address the specific issue of where the plane was shot down indicates that it is well aware of that fact. But the administration is far too committed to its policy of working with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to force regime change in Syria to reveal the truth about the incident.

Obama’s response to the shoot-down blandly blamed the problem on the Russian military being in part of Syria. “They are operating very close to a Turkish border,” he declared, and if the Russians would only focus solely on Daesh, “some of these conflicts or potentials for mistakes or escalation are less likely to occur.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.[This article originally appeared at http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/real-turkeys-shoot-down-russian-jet-1615790737]


12 comments for “Facts Back Russia on Turkish Attack

  1. Dmitriy
    December 1, 2015 at 09:51

    Regarding the speed of SU-24 inflight – if one pays attention to the shoot-down video, one can clearly see how its’ wings position is set to minimum sweep angle, which supports what navigator has said about them going at cruising speed.

    This could affect the time of airspace infringement if it actually occured, but it’s still a matter of seconds at most. Even if F-16s were casually patrolling the borders, it’s hardly plausible for them to react in that timeframe, let alone come up with a decision to shoot down the (presumable) trespasser. Which leaves us with an obvious conclusion that this event was a premeditated one. It’s quite ironic how Turkey then noted that they would consider it an act of agression if any of their jets trespassing into Syria’s airspace were to be shot down.

  2. Peter Loeb
    December 1, 2015 at 07:17


    Many nations presume an entitlement to the
    territory of a neighbor they dislike. Mysteriously
    their own “border” extends into their neighbor’s territory.

    Israel’s annexation of territory
    in Palestine is a notable example. Israel builds
    exclusively and violently “Jewish” communities
    (with American funding). The world and
    its self-proclaimed spokesman by default
    (it maintains), the US, maintains that Israel
    has “the right…and the obligation to defend

    So Syria has a right and obligation to defend
    itself, every inch of its territory up to the
    border with Turkey. (Should there be any
    concern whatsoever by Turkey they should
    favor a safe zone WITHIN THE BORDERS
    OF TURKEY to which all Turkmen now
    living in Syria could flee.

    As recognized in the recent unanimous UN
    Security Council Resolution of 20 November,
    2015, the territory of Syria is sovereign and
    independent (See S/Res/2249(2015) available
    at the Council’s website.)

    For Gareth Porter’s summation
    we all remain, as always, in his debt.

    —-Peter Loeb, Botosn, MA, USA

  3. Dr. Frans B. Roos, Ph.D.
    December 1, 2015 at 05:54

    OK all your jet fighter jocks which Turkey – Syria border are you talking about as a commercial aviation pilot (retired 1994) with more than 10,000 hours flying logged I go by the official issued aviation navigation Charts which is also what the SU24 onboard navigation computer screen shows in addition to the Russia Air Force control center screen.
    The real reason for claims of airspace violation is because Turkey unilaterally ‘moved’ the Turkish-Syrian border five miles south. Turkey has maintained a buffer zone five miles inside Syria since June 2012, when a Syrian air defense missile shot down a Turkish fighter plane that had strayed into Syrian airspace. Under revised rules of engagement put in effect then, the Turkish air force would evaluate any target coming within five miles of the Turkish border as an enemy and act accordingly.”
    The Syrian Free Press called such quiet border manipulation by Turkey and its resulting claims of “violation” of airspace little more than “nonsense” and “bullshit.” Its suggested that “Russian planes should not respect the ‘new’ Turkish defined border but only the legitimate one located on International aviation navigation charts.”
    It’s useful to add into all the geopolitical spin.

  4. Antidyatel
    December 1, 2015 at 04:20

    Best summary of reports on Turkish links to ISIL http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6128950

  5. Kiza
    December 1, 2015 at 00:15

    Obama had to play down and offer almost an apology to Putin for the shoot-down. This is not so much because of Russia then because some EU members of NATO may get cold feet being in the same organization as Turkish gunslingers, which could drag them into a serious, even nuclear war.

    I guess the most direct result of the shoot-down within NATO is that Georgia and Ukraine can kiss their membership goodbye. No matter who much of puppets they are, Germany and France will say an even firmer NO to a Turkish tail wagging the NATO dog. I guess the US is used to Israel wagging them, so nothing new for US.

  6. Yuliy
    November 30, 2015 at 21:01

    Even if the speed of the Russian jet was only a half of suggested 870 mph, to be generous, the time frame for Turkish warnings would still be roughly a half of what they claim, so they are still lying, no matter how you look at it and all of the other points made by the author make perfect sense.

  7. mark
    November 30, 2015 at 20:43

    Stupid headline, Facts Back Russia? in Turkish attack?? idiots Facts backs Turkish claim in Attack on Russian Jet, it should be, are you elementary school student?

    • Fisher
      November 30, 2015 at 23:19

      In what way shape or form do the facts back the Turkish claims? By the Turks own admission the maximum amount of time the Russian planes (if they even were in Turkish airspace) could have been in Turkish airspace based on the radar track provided by Turkey is 17 seconds. So you’re telling me that the Turks identified the Russians as approaching Turkish airspace, gave their warnings, radioed command, command got in touch with either the President or Prime minister, issued the ok to shoot down the plane, and then carried out the shoot down in less than 17 seconds?! Because that’s the ONLY scenario where a Turkish plane doesn’t cross into Syrian airspace to deliberately shoot down a Russian bomber. Which is a blatant act of war by a NATO country!

      • tjoe
        December 1, 2015 at 09:22

        Exactly….Oh that’s right I’m banned by Perry the hypocritical HA HA man. Never mind

  8. David Heitel
    November 30, 2015 at 20:25

    There is a factual error in this piece. Per the provided link, the SU-24 has a maximum speed of 870 mph at sea level. This is not a cruise speed and it is highly unlikely that is was a operational speed while conducting low-level attacks, which would be much slower. This error undercuts the assertion at the Russian jet was only one minute 20 seconds away from the Turkish border when on a course to intercept the Turkish border. The Turks may not be telling the truth about the number of warnings, but this report does not accurate reflect the state of circumstances prior the the shoot-down.

    • Evangelista
      November 30, 2015 at 22:29


      Were the links links when you read the article, or did you not follow them?

      See the last line of the first link re. the Su-24M, which informs, “The Su-24M has a maximum speed of 1,550km/h and a range of over 3,000km. The service ceiling is 11,000m and the maximum rate of climb is 9,000m a minute.”

    • Andy Jones
      December 4, 2015 at 06:12

      If you bother to watch the video of the plane going down you will notice that it was far above sea level when the video started. The Russians said it was cruising at 6,000 meters. It could easily have been going the speed the author wrote.

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