MOSCOW -- Russia’s foreign minister has suggested that the downing of its bomber by Turkish jets Tuesday resembled a "planned provocation." But he reiterated that Moscow has no intention of fighting a war with Turkey over the incident.
"We have serious doubts that it was an unpremeditated act. It’s very similar to a planned provocation," Lavrov said during a news conference in Moscow today.
Asked whether he thought the incident could escalate into a conflict, Lavrov said, "We do not intend to fight with Turkey; our relationship with the Turkish people has not changed. There are just questions that have arisen for the Turkish government."
Lavrov made the comments as Russia’s military announced it had recovered the second pilot from the downed bomber.
Speaking at a televised briefing, Vladimir Putin confirmed the pilot, who was the plane’s navigator, had been rescued.
Russia’s defense minister earlier told a briefing that the man, Konstantin Murakhtin, had been found after an all-night search, during which one rescue helicopter was downed by rebels and a Russian marine killed. He is now “alive and well’ at Russian airbase in Syria, the ministry said.
The plane’s other pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov, was killed by rebels after he ejected, according to Russian defense officials. Putin said Peshkov will be awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of Russia medal, one of Russia’s highest military honors.
Simultaneously, Russia’s defense ministry announced it would be deploying advanced anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria, close to where the incident happened to prevent further attacks of its planes conducting strikes there.
The men’s Su-24 jet was brought down by Turkish fighters in the northern mountains of Syria’s Latakia province, close to the border with Turkey, where it had been bombing Syrian rebel militants. Turkey has insisted the plane was destroyed because it violated Turkish airspace, a claim Russia has disputed.
The shooting down -- the first of a Russian plane by a NATO aircraft since the 1950 s-- has prompted a diplomatic crisis between Russia and Turkey and added yet another tangle to the intractable Syrian conflict.
Russia has been supporting the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad with an air campaign for the past two months. Turkey, which is deeply opposed to Assad, has been supporting rebel groups with arms and money.
Putin called the downing of the plane a “stab in the back” and has accused Turkey of supporting terrorism, calling it an “accomplice of terrorists.” The incident has caused a sharp breach in Russian-Turkish relations, with Russia’s foreign ministry recommending Russian citizens stop visiting Turkey and most major tour operators halting sales of trips there.
Turkey has defended its actions, insisting it had given the Russian plane multiple warnings and that it had crossed over a mile into Turkish territory. But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said this morning his country would not escalate the situation.