Russia sends clear message to Turkey: Don't try it again
- 25 November 2015
- From the section Europe
"A stab in Russia's back by the accomplices of terrorists."
President Putin's phrase leapt from the front pages of Russian newspapers on Wednesday morning, along with furious commentary on Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter plane.
"Vladimir Putin has warned Erdogan about the consequences," another headline roared, as Russians absorbed the news that one of the pilots on board the Su-24 jet had been killed.
Worse still, he was shot at as he attempted to parachute to safety from his burning plane. A marine was then killed during a rescue attempt.
Since the start of its air strikes in Syria almost two months ago, Russia has received repeated warnings from Turkey over border violations.
This time, Russia insists its jet never left Syrian airspace though it has yet to produce what it calls the "objective" proof of that.
But even by Ankara's reckoning, the plane was only over Turkish territory for 17 seconds, raising questions here about the scale of the response.
Turkey, the argument goes, was under no threat.
An angry crowd surrounded the Turkish embassy today, throwing eggs and stones, yelling at those inside they were "murderers".
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"Every country understands that hitting a military jet can start a war," politician Gennady Gudkov told Ekho Moskvy radio station, saying that is why every possible warning step is taken before shooting a plane down.
Many commentators here have cast doubt whether that happened in this case.
"There was no warning. Not via radio, or visually. There was no contact at all," the surviving co-pilot of the plane told journalists, safely back at Russia's airbase in Syria after his emergency mid-air ejection.
He says the jet was shot down from behind.
"If they had wanted to warn us, then they could have shown themselves - flown in parallel," Captain Murakhtin said.
Unconfirmed audio recordings have now been released by the Turkish military, said to be orders for the plane to change course. But the co-pilot insists he did not enter Turkish airspace "even for a second".
Russia's foreign minister has called the decision to shoot down the plane a "planned provocation", without speculating on Turkey's supposed motive.
But President Putin has already accused Ankara of siding with Islamic State (IS) by hitting the Russian jet; he also claimed some in Turkey are benefitting from the illicit sale of IS oil exports.
Clearly furious, he has threatened "serious consequences". After all, these are the first military casualties for Russia since air strikes began in Syria.
But so far concrete measures have been limited.
Russia has broken off military contacts with Turkey but diplomatic channels remain open.
The foreign minister spent a fraught hour on the phone to his Turkish counterpart today, but his conclusion was critical: "We do not intend to go to war with Turkey," Sergei Lavrov assured the world.
Instead, ministries have been ordered to report back to the Kremlin on any projects involving Turkey, for a decision on possible sanctions.
The future of a pipeline project could be in doubt and there have been calls for flights to Turkey to be suspended.
Meanwhile, tourists have been warned against travelling there for "security reasons". Last year, Turkey was the destination of choice for over three million Russian holidaymakers.
On the ground inside Syria the changes have been more immediate.
A cruiser has been despatched to help bolster air defences around the Russian base.
The sophisticated S400 anti aircraft system is also being deployed and Russian planes will now be protected on bombing raids by fighter jets.
The message to Turkey and its allies is clear: don't dare try it again.
As for the rescued co-pilot, he says he is impatient to return to the skies.
"I want to stay here," he said, referring to the Russian airbase. "I want payback for my commander."