Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Turkey of a “stab in the back” and warned of “serious consequences” after Turkish military jets today shot down a Russian fighter plane close to the border of Syria and Turkey.
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Russia’s defense ministry announced it was dispatching a missile cruiser to provide cover for its aircraft in future operations.
A search and rescue operation was still ongoing in the mountains of northern Syria for the pilots of the downed jet, the ministry said, but one of the pilots was believed to have been killed by ground-fire after he ejected.
The fate of the second remained unknown. A Russian marine was killed during the rescue operation, according to the ministry, after his helicopter was fired at by rebels who control the area.
Despite the Russian announcement, the fate of the plane’s two pilots was still unclear, as Turkish officials said they believed both were still alive. A senior Turkish official told ABC that Turkish authorities were working to recover both pilots alive from rebels who now held them. It was not clear which rebel group.
The Russian Su-24 jet was hit by rockets fired from Turkish F-16s early Tuesday morning as it conducted airstrikes on militants. Turkish officials have said the plane violated Turkey’s airspace and that its jets had warned the Russian plane repeatedly to leave.
Turkey had already warned Russia to halt its airstrikes in the area close to border where the plane was brought down, on Friday summoning the Russian ambassador and warning of serious consequences if the strikes, which are in support of a Syrian government offensive against Turkmen rebels in the area, continued.
Russia disputed this and Putin has accused Turkey of supporting terrorism with the attack.
“Today’s losses is connected with a blow, that was delivered as a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists. I cannot qualify what happened today in any other way,” Putin said during a televised meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan.
Turkish officials told the United States the country shot down the plane after it entered their airspace, two U.S. officials told ABC News. No U.S. forces were involved in the incident, both officials said.
While no U.S. personnel were in the vicinity of the incident, U.S. military spokesman Col. Steve Warren said,
Audio exchanges revealed that Turkey gave the Russian aircraft 10 warnings in a five-minute period.
Putin said the Russian plane was operating less than a mile inside the Syrian side of the border when it was hit and had posed no threat to Turkey.
Russia’s Defense ministry also said it had tried to reach Turkish officials by an emergency hotline before the plane was shot down but was unable to get through.
The Russian president went on to accuse Turkey of aiding terror groups by allowing them to house smuggled oil products on Turkish territory, a trade that is a major source of revenue for many militant groups in Syria.
Russia’s foreign ministry announced it is advising its citizens not to visit Turkey, which is popular among Russian tourists and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced he was canceling a planned trip to Turkey in protest of the incident.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.