In a sudden and dramatic escalation of the Syria conflict, two Russian aircraft -- a SU-24 fighter jet and a rescue helicopter -- have been downed in Syria. The fighter was shot down by the Turkish military after it claimed an airspace violation, and the rescue helicopter was reportedly shot down by US-backed rebels with US-made and supplied TOW missiles.
The Turks claim the Russian fighter had ventured over Turkish airspace and that it had been warned ten times in five minutes before it was shot down by two US-made F-16 fighters. For its part, the Russian defense ministry denies any Turkish airspace violation and claims it can prove there was no violation. The Russian fighter crashed in Syrian territory and reports suggest at least one pilot is dead. The other may have been captured or killed by US-backed rebels in the area.
Turkey has released what it claims is radar depiction of the Russian jet's airspace violation, though as Zero Hedge notes even if accurate it raises the question of how the Russian fighter could have been over Turkish airspace for the five minutes claimed by the Turk side:
Equally serious is the claimed downing of a Russian rescue helicopter by US-backed rebels near the site of the crashed fighter. The US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have radically increased the supply of TOW missiles to Syrian rebels. According to the Telegraph (via Zero Hedge), the rebels' use of TOW missiles has increased 800 percent since the Russians began striking ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria.
The US claims it only supplies TOW missiles to the "moderate" Free Syrian Army, but as recently as last week a video surfaced of al-Qaeda's Nusra Front thanking representatives of the Free Syrian Army for providing them TOW missiles. Numerous times over the past year, US-supplied TOW missiles have ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda. Nevertheless the US and its Saudi partner announced just after the Russians began hitting ISIS in Syria that they would send an additional 500 TOWs to the rebels.
Let this sink in: the US is through one degree of separation attacking Russia in Syria. Russia is fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria at the request of the Syrian government while the US is attacking Syrian territory in violation of its sovereignty and international law.
Even if Turkey's claim of a brief Russian violation of its airspace turns out to be true, we should not forget that Turkey has violated Syrian airspace and territory many times since it decided to participate in the fight to overthrow Syrian president Assad. Turkish fighters have routinely flown over Syria, attacking Syrian territory, against the wishes of the Syrian government. Turkish troops have crossed into Syrian territory on military operations as well. It is also a violation of Syria's sovereignty for Turkey to actively support armed forces seeking to overthrow the legitimate Syrian government -- whether Turkey likes Syria's current leadership or not.
So the Turkish concern over territorial sovereignty is very selective.
Russian president Putin has called the Turkish attack on its fighter jet a "stab in the back" and promised it would have a serious effect on Russian/Turkish relations.
Warmongers in the United States have repeatedly called for Russian military planes attacking ISIS and al-Qaeda to be shot down and now it appears they have gotten their wish. Presumed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called for a "no-fly" zone in the region where the Russian plane was shot down, so had she gotten her wish the plane would have been downed with her approval. A "no-fly" zone would only apply to the Russian and Syrian air force attacking ISIS, as ISIS and al-Qaeda have no aircraft.
Russian success in attacking ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria has significantly dimmed the prospects for the desired overthrow of the Syrian government long pursued by the US and its allies in the region. This dramatic escalation by Turkey may be seen as a "hail mary" pass to head off what looks increasingly like a Syrian government victory against a a five year insurgency.
Or it may launch World War III...
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