NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg has announced that the Atlantic alliance backs the Turkish account of the downing of a Russian fighter jet near Turkish border in northwestern Syria, on the grounds that it had violated the Turkish airspace.
NATO allies have held an emergency meeting on Nov. 24 following Turkey’s call, immediately after the incident and evaluated the ensuing developments connected to the shootdown.
Stoltenberg said, “The Allied assessments we have got from several Allies during the day are consistent with information we have been provided with from Turkey. So the information we have from other Allies is consistent with what we have got from Turkey,” in a press conference following the emergency meeting.
“As we have repeatedly made clear, we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO Ally, Turkey,” Stoltenberg emphasised.
However, “I look forward to further contacts between Ankara and Moscow and I call for calm and de-escalation,” he added.
He also noted that Russian air strikes, which have been ongoing in northern Syria so far, have targeted Syrian opposition groups rather than the DAESH terrorist holdouts.
“What we have seen is that most of the attacks by Russia so far has been targeted towards targets in parts of Syria where ISIL [DAESH] is not present. So we welcome all efforts to fight ISIL. Our common enemy is ISIL, and therefore I would also welcome all efforts to strengthen the fight against ISIL,” the NATO chief recounted.
Russian intervention into the Syrian conflict began with a bombing campaign on the side of the Assad regime on Sept. 30, targeting mostly Syrian opposition-held territories in the country, rather than DAESH. The intervention has been strongly protested by US, Turkey and the NATO alliance.
Russian fighter jets previously violated the Turkish airspace near the Syrian border in early October during its bombing campaign.
At the time, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the violation and summoned the Russian ambassador to convey its condemnation of the breach according to a statement released on Oct.5.
The Turkish protest brought on a Russian formal apology following this first public incident, through the official channels of the countries.
The Russian ambassador was summoned by Ankara again following an alleged second violation by the Russian warplanes which is yet to be clarified by the Moscow government.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama criticised the context of the Russian operations including the latest one in which Turkey downed a Russian jet in northern Syria saying that, “I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are operating very close to the Turkish border,” during a press conference with his French counterpart Francois Hollande in Washington on Nov. 24.
“They are going after moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries,” he added.
Obama also expressed strong words of support to Turkey stating that it has right to defend its own territory and airspace which was a point already acclaimed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan asserted in a highlighted speech on Nov. 24 that, “Nobody should doubt that we made our best efforts to avoid this latest incident. But everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend its borders.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who cancelled a previously arranged official visit to Turkey scheduled for today following the incident, has announced that his country is not “going to wage a war against Turkey," in a meeting with journalists on Wednesday.
Turkey and Russia have been in great disagreement with each other over the Syrian civil war. Turkey and the US-led coalition have consistently defended the bringing down of the Assad regime, backing opposition groups while Russia has supported the regime since the beginning of the conflict.
The existing disagreement has been worsened following the high-level Russian military intervention to the Syrian conflict.
In addition, Russia has recently waged heavy air strikes against Turkmen villages supported by the ground assault of forces loyal to Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad in the Bayirbucak Turkmen area in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border, escalating tension with the country which has strongly protested the Russian bombardment of the area.
Turkey, which has been a member of the NATO alliance since the 1950s, has historical and cultural ties with Syrian Turkmen communities which go centuries back.