Russia ordered the deployment of sophisticated ground-to-air missiles in Syria on Wednesday, a day after a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian SU-24 warplane that Ankara said had repeatedly violated Turkish airspace near the Syrian border.
The Kremlin also said it was moving the missile-carrying naval cruiser Moskva closer to the Syrian government-controlled Latakia area, where Tuesday’s deadly confrontation occurred, to provide better protection of Russian aircraft. The Kremlin’s warplanes are in the region to wage airstrikes against Islamic State militants and other forces fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russia’s closest ally in the Middle East.
The strengthening of Russian air defenses in the region further raises the stakes for the multinational coalition trying to contain the Islamic State extremists who have proclaimed a “caliphate” in the vast Syrian and Iraqi territory they control. If Russia were to shoot down a Turkish plane, or one from any other NATO member state, the Western military alliance would be obliged to respond to the attack.
Meanwhile, Syrian special forces staged a dramatic overnight rescue of one of the two Russian pilots who ejected from the SU-24 after it was struck by an air-to-air missile. Both Russian airman had been reported dead by Syrian rebel forces controlling the border area where the plane was shot down.
The rescued pilot, Capt. Konstantin Murakthin, told Rossiya-1 television that the warplane’s two-man crew had no warning of the Turkish attack and denied that they had strayed into Turkish airspace “even for one second.”
The navigator was reported in good condition after his ordeal and vowed to rejoin the air campaign against the anti-Assad forces that Moscow has labeled terrorists.
“I have a debt to pay off on the part of my commander,” Murakhtin said of the SU-24 pilot, Lt. Col. Oleg Peshkov, who was shot dead by rebels as he parachuted from the stricken warplane early Tuesday.
Another Russian airman was killed later Tuesday when rebels attacked an MI-8 helicopter that taken off from the Hemeimeem base in search of the two SU-24 pilots, Russian officials said. The helicopter was forced to land in neutral territory and the surviving crewmen were evacuated.
Source: Russia deploys missiles in Syria; pilot denies straying into Turkish airspace – LA Times