News & Politics

Obama: Turkey 'Has the Right to Defend its Territory and Its Airspace'

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande embrace during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Hollande's visit to Washington is part of a diplomatic offensive to get the international community to bolster the campaign against the Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The fallout from Turkey’s downing of a Russian military jet continues, with President Vladimir Putin declaring that Russia was “stabbed in the back” and referring to Turkey as an “accomplice to terrorists.”

But President Obama backed up Turkey’s version of the incident, saying that it had the right to defend its airspace.

The Hill:

“It is important right now to make sure the Russians and Turks are talking to each other to figure out what happened” and “discourage any kind of escalation,” the president said.

Russia reacted angrily to the incident, with President Vladimir Putin calling it a “stab in the back” carried out by “accomplices of terrorists,” referring to Turkey.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday also canceled a previously scheduled visit to Turkey.

Russia claimed the jet was brought down by artillery fire, Turkey said its F-16s fired on it after the Russian plane ignored 10 warnings in the span of five minutes to exit its airspace, according to The Associated Press.

Turkey informed other NATO allies that the Russian plane entered its airspace before it was shot down, prompting an emergency meeting of allies in Brussels, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg said after the meeting that the assessments received from several allies during the day “are consistent” with the information provided by Turkey that the Russian plane violated its airspace before it was shot down.

“We stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of Turkey, our ally,” the NATO official said, adding a call for deescalation.

A U.S. military spokesman confirmed that Turkish pilots had warned the Russian pilots 10 times, and that the Russians did not respond.

“We were able to hear everything that was going on. Obviously, you know, these are on open channels. I’m sure there’s others who heard it all as well,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.

Warren said the coalition was not involved in the incident, since the coalition is focused on ISIS, and the possible incursion would be between Turkey and Russia only.

However, Warren said the “international protocols and standards and norms are very well established, very well known by all players.”

“And absolutely … all nations should work within those international norms,” he said. “There’s no reason for aircraft to be flying where they shouldn’t, frankly.”

It’s difficult to choose whom to believe: Putin the Dissembler, or Erdogan the Liar. The president is pretty much forced by circumstance to back Erdogan, although I wouldn’t be surprised a bit if Putin, who bullies weaker nations, thought he could fly through Turkish airspace with impunity.

But Turkey is NATO and that makes the situation fraught with danger. Trending on Twitter: #WorldWarIII. Not that war is inevitable between Russia and the west, but the chances for more such misunderstandings are growing.

Turkey has other grievances against Russia, including the bombing of villages in Syria populated by Turkmen — kinsmen of the Turks. Turkey is also supporting anti-Assad rebels while the Russians continue to pulverize their forces.

Putin has suffered a loss of face with the shooting down of the Russian aircraft. Will he escalate or back down? If he’s sane and rational, he will swallow his pride and move on. But what makes Putin, well, Putin is his unpredictability. And that’s not good when you consider that significant NATO forces are in the region that might confront the Russians if Putin chooses to exact revenge against Turkey.