US officials question Russian flight into Turkey

Posted at 9:17 AM, Oct 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-05 12:17:41-04

The U.S. does not believe Russia's incursion into Turkey's airspace was an accident, a senior U.S. official said Monday, adding that urgent talks are underway on what to do about the weekend incident.

The official said the event is the type of conduct that U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke with the Russian defense minister about during their recent phone call. Russia has acknowledged a plane entered Turkish airspace, but has said it was an accident.

Secretary of State John Kerry, in Chile for an ocean environmental conference, said the incident could have led to Turkey shooting down the Russian plane.

"We're very concerned about it ... and it is precisely the kind of thing we warned about," he told reporters, saying Russia has a responsibility to act within international standards.

Speaking at a press conference Monday in Spain, Carter said the U.S. is conferring with Turkish leaders about the airspace violation and that the issue will come up later this week at the NATO meeting of defense ministers.

The senior official said that Carter has not yet had any direct discussions with Turkish officials. The official was not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Kerry said he spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu on Saturday.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Monday that a Russian warplane entered Turkey's airspace near the town of Yayladagi, near the Syrian border on Saturday. Two F-16 jets intercepted the Russian aircraft and forced it to fly back into the Syrian airspace.

Also Monday, Turkey's military said a MiG-29 jet had harassed two Turkish F-16s for five minutes and 40 seconds on Sunday by locking its radar onto them. In a brief statement, the military said the incident occurred while 10 F-16s were patrolling the Turkish-Syrian border. The military said it did not know which country the MiG-29 belonged to.

During a speech earlier Monday morning at the Center for Advanced Studies of National Defense, Carter alluded to the incident, calling on Russia "to act in a safe and professional manner" and to uphold international standards for safety and respect the sovereignty of all nations, specifically Turkey.

Carter said that Russia's ongoing military action in Syria against moderate groups puts at further risk "the very political resolution and preservation of Syria's structure of future governance it says that it wants."

"This approach is tantamount to pouring gasoline on the fire of the Syrian civil war," he said.

Carter said he continues to hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin "will see that tethering Russia to a sinking ship is a losing strategy" and that it will go after Islamic State targets rather than using its airstrikes to hit Syrian President Bashar Assad's opposition.

Echoing those remarks, Kerry said that if Russia continues to militarily strengthen Assad and does not pursue the diplomatic track to remove him from office, "it will continue to lead in the direction that will almost certainly guarantee much more terrorism, much more destruction and possibly the complete destruction of the state of Syria."

Carter is on a weeklong trip to Europe, including stops in Spain, Italy and London, and will also attend the NATO meeting, which is expected to focus on Russia's recent launch of military airstrikes in Syria.