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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
November 24, 2015

Publication: Putin in Syria
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian General Staff Complain Turkey Has Violated Syria's Air Space

Russian media has just announced that Turkey has violated Syria's air space. reports citing that the Russian General Staff has stated (translation by The Interpreter):

Radar reconnaissance at the Hmeemeem air base has recorded the fact of a violation of air space of Syria by a fighter plane of the Turkish Air Force. says it is still updating the story and RIA Novosti's wires do not yet have this story available to the public.

 -- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Releases Videos Which Reportedly Prove That Turkey Crossed Into Syrian Airspace To Shoot Down Their Fighter

The Russian news outlet Vesti has broadcast video, reportedly showing Syrian radar information, which was released by the Russian Ministry of Defense. In the video, A Russian jet (red), apparently the Su-24 bomber which was shot down by Turkish F-16s earlier today, flies close, but never over, the border with Turkey, and a Turkish jet (yellow) is shown firing on and destroying the Russian jet.

Our summary/translation of what Russian journalist Yevgeny Poddubny reports is below:

0:45 -- the Russian Su-24 did not violate Turkish airspace

0:55 -- you can see the direction the tactical bomber is traveling in

1:01 -- you can also see how the Turkish F16 operated

1:05 -- it lifted off from the airfield and headed toward Syrian territory

​1:12 -- it released an air-to-air missile at the Russian airplane

1:18 -- after which the Russian plane disappeared from the radar screen.

1:26 -- it's also quite visible from the [on-board continuous synopsis record or on-board CSR]

1:29 -- you can see the situation in this zone

​1:38 -- what you can see here is that the Turkish plane, in executing these maneuvers, violated Syrian air space

​1:50 -- After the Turkish F16 attacked the Russian SU-24 tactical bomber it flew into Syrian airspace, after which is quickly left the Syrian sky.

2:05 -- so you can see that here on the materials provided by the Russian Defense Ministry

A second video was released by the Russian Ministry of Defense which closely matches this one:

Our translation/summary of statements made by the  Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lt.Gen. Sergei Rudskoy:

1:10 --  "According to the data from the airborne objective control  [on-board continuous synopsis record or on-board CSR], our plane did not violate Turkish airspace."

1:20 --  "According to data from radar reconnaissance at the Hmeemeem air base, the fact was noted that the air space of Syria was violated by a fighter plane from the Turkish Air Force. This fact is deemed to be the most egregious violation of the standards of international law, with the most severe consequences and a direct violation of the memorandum on the prevention of incidents and the ensuring of the safety of flights over the Syrian Arabic Republic which was signed by the US and which extends to all the countries of the coalition, including Turkey."

[swallows hard]

"That's apparently why Turkey began these emergency consultations with NATO instead of immediately getting into contact with the Russian Defense Ministry."

He says a contract soldier was killed in the rescue attempt, which we believe confirms the videos we posted earlier showing a Russian helicopter destroyed by rebels:

The general says this area was where 1,000 fighters from the North Caucasus were located, and that no one in the Western coalition claimed that there were moderate fighters here.

ISIS does not operate in this area, however. Western backed rebels, equipped with TOW anti-tank missiles, do, and are engaged in heavy fighting in the area. This area is also home to Syrian Turkmen, an ethnic minority with ties to Turkey.

We will attempt to analyze the videos to determine the validity of Russia's claims.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, James Miller

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
NATO Asks For Greater Cooperation With Russia In Syria, Russia Suspends Cooperation With Turkey

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is giving a statement following an extraordinary meeting of NATO members in light of today's events.

According to Stoltenberg, he has previously expressed concerns about Russian military engagements so close to NATO borders:

"As we have repeatedly made clear, we stand by our ally Turkey, and defend the territorial integrity of the state of Turkey."

Stoltenberg then called for diplomacy and de-escalation to resolve these issues.

He went straight to questions after this.

Stoltenberg was asked whether the plane was shot down over Turkey or Syria. He said that the NATO ally assessment says that their intelligence assessment is consistent with what they have received from Turkey. That did not answer the question.

Stoltenberg again called for "calm and de-escalation." He also said he'd welcome more contact between Moscow and Ankara and "the strengthening of mechanisms to avoid this type of situation in the future." This is a conversation within NATO which is ongoing. Stoltenberg, then, seems to be calling this an accident more than a deliberate breech of NATO airspace.

Stoltenberg was asked about why there is not more cooperation with Russia. He reiterated that most of Russia's attacks have targeted parts of Syria where ISIL (the wrong name for ISIS) is not present. He made no mention of civilian casualties or other concerns.

Stoltenberg said that there have been contacts between NATO member states and Russia, but not directly between the alliance and Moscow, since this event.

Stoltenberg again was asked about how the plane was shot down. He refused to go into details but reiterated that "assessments we have from allies are consistent with what Turkey briefed us on earlier today."

With that, the live feed went dark.

So, since Stoltenberg did not release any details, what do we know about what Turkey told its allies?

First, the Pentagon and Turkey both say that the Russian pilot was warned by Turkey and did not respond. As we reported earlier, the Turkish General Staff reportedly warned the aircraft to change course 10 times over five minutes. Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News confirms this:

U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also confirmed that Turkey warned the pilots repeatedly before shootdown but the pilots did not respond.

But let's take a look at the map which reportedly shows the flight path of the aircraft in question. It cuts across a fairly narrow part of Turkey:

This indicates that the aircraft may have only been in Turkish airspace for a brief period of time. NATO procedures typically involve warning planes as they are about to enter NATO airspace, and so it's likely that the Turkish jets that fired on the Russian Su-24 bomber were prepared for the incoming flight. New statements published by CNN Turk indicate that the flight may have only been in Turkish airspace for a brief period of time:

But this is not the first time Russia and Turkey have had an incident. In October, Turkey became furious with Russia after multiple Russian flights passed into Turkish airspace. Following this, Turkish radar stations reportedly locked onto Russian flights in the area. The message was supposed to be clear -- Turkey was ready to shoot down Russian planes. Last week, on November 19, Turkey warned Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov that Turkey was concerned about Russian military action near its border and would take action if needed. Hurriyet reports that three main points were conveyed to the Russian government:

1-The operations of the Russian army were taking place in areas very close to Turkey’s border. This increased the possibility of a de facto situation which could threaten Turkey’s border security. It should be noted Turkey’s rules of engagement were in place and there will be no hesitation to implement them if such a violation occurs.

2-The area where Russian operations were being conducted was free of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or other terrorist groups. There are Turkmens living in this area. Civilians Turkmens were being harmed by Russia’s operations. It should be noted Turkey won’t be indifferent to attacks targeting the life security of Turkmen.

3-Military operations cause more civilians to leave their homes. A new refugee influx is at the door. Russia’s operations in that particular region could also hurt Turkey’s humanitarian efforts as well.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated these facts today in light of today's incident. Hurriyet reports:

The entire world should be aware and sure that we’ll do whatever necessary in order to ensure our country’s peace and security within all this ring of fire, in order to maintain peace in Turkey and around,” Davutoğlu said.

Davutoğlu also made a call to “stamp the fire in Syria out,” but warned Turkey’s message would be clear on incongruous acts.


Meanwhile, a government official has said Turkey’s downing of the war plane was not directed against any specific country and was fully in line with its military rules of engagement.

“This isn’t an action against any specific country: Our F-16s took necessary steps to defend Turkey’s sovereign territory,” the official told the Hürriyet Daily News on Nov. 24.

“In line with the military rules of engagement, the Turkish authorities repeatedly warned an unidentified aircraft that they were 15 kilometers or less away from the border. The aircraft didn’t heed the warnings and proceeded to fly over Turkey. The Turkish Air Force responded by downing the aircraft,” the official said.

“In the past, we have made public our military rules of engagement and reminded our counterparts that any violation of Turkish airspace would trigger the actions prescribed by the military rules of engagement,” the official added.

Turkey has taken a very tough stand with the Syrian regime in the past. After multiple similar incidents -- including when Syria shot down a Turkish F-4 reconnaissance jet in June 2012 and when Turkey shot down a Syrian helicopter on September 16, 2013 -- Turkey has effectively enforced a very narrow no-fly zone in a thin strip of territory within 15 kilometers of its border. Some of the recent fighting in northern Latakia is within this border and has targeted rebel groups in areas where Syrian Turkmen, Syrians of Turkish descent, live. Clearly Turkey is demonstrating that it is willing to enforce such a zone even if Russia is conducting the missions instead of Assad.

Some late-breaking news -- despite NATO Secretary General Stoltenber's desire for closer military cooperation with Russia, it seems just the opposite is happening:

-- James Miller
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Syrian Rebels Reportedly Destroy Russian Helicopter In Latakia

A series of reports from various Syrian opposition forces indicate that the rebel First Coastal Division may have destroyed a Russian helicopter in fighting today in Latakia.

This video shows a Mil Mi-8 Hip helicopter flying low alongside a Mil Mi-24 Hind gunship. After a cut, we see a man setting up a TOW anti-tank missile, in an area with the same topography, and shooting an Mi-8 which is on the ground, possibly because it had already been forced down by other fire, though this is not visible on the video.

We have analyzed the video and it appears to be new. 

The description of the video below is "Russian helicopters are searching for downed Su-24 pilots," a reference to the Russian jet which was shot down earlier today by Turkey. Those pilots were recovered by Syrian rebels and are reportedly dead.

In the video, Russian helicopters make a low pass through a valley. If the cameraman can see them, it's entirely possible rebels could have fired on these helicopters with various machineguns, potentially damaging one enough to force it to land. The video says "Syrian Turkmen Brigade," indicating that the cameraman may be embedded with that unit:

We know that there has been heavy fighting in this area, in the Turkmen mountains, for the last week or so, and we know that the FSA Coastal Divisions are engaged in this area. In fact, according to the Associated Press it was the 10th Coastal Brigade that recovered the bodies of the downed Russian pilots. According to Reuters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group that is widely cited but has some reliability issues, reported that a Russian helicopter was destroyed by a TOW missile in Latakia province today.

-- James Miller and Pierre Vaux

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia-Turkey Relationship Jeopardized After Russian Bomber Shot Down

The stakes for Russia are very high in the aftermath of the shooting down of a Russian jet today, shot down by two Turkish F-16 fighter jets. As we reported below, Putin has made a series of statements in response to this event, and his comments are curious.

First, Putin needs to avoid admitting that his jets violated NATO airspace, which would run counter to the narrative that he is trying to build that Russia is the constructive partner in the fight against ISIS and the West are the obstructionists in that fight. This narrative is fiction, as all data shows that Russia is primarily bombing non-ISIS rebels, many of which are both supported by the West and have fought against ISIS in the past, but that doesn't matter to Putin. What's important is that the Russian people believe this, as do his allies across the globe. Russia, therefore, has to be the victim here.

Putin says that the Turkish jets shot down the Su-24 medium bomber over Syria. We can't say whether or not this is true at the moment. It appears that the pilots were captured by Syrian rebels. A map we posted below suggests that the Russian plane may have been taking a short cut by fling over a thin piece of Turkey which jets into Syria. Either way, Putin has denied that the jet was in Turkey.

But this causes new problems -- the Turkish-Russia relationship may not be optional for Putin for multiple reasons, the least of which may be that Turkey and Russia are major trading partners:

Turkey factors heavily in all of Russia's plans to divert natural gas pipelines away from Ukraine in order to deliver it to Europe. If Turkey were to pull the plug on these plans, Russia may have no other option than to continue to supply Europe with pipelines that flow through Ukraine, a major political headache for the Kremlin which is effectively waging an undeclared war there.

Turkey is also allowing Russian warships and civilian ships to pass through its Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and is used nearly every day, it seems, to supply Russia's mission in Syria.  Under the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Turkish Straits of July 20, 1936, Turkey could close the strait to Russian military and/or civilian traffic.

Turkey, on the other hand, benefits greatly from its relationship to Russia, but has less to lose from this. A NATO ally, Turkey has also attempted through the years to create a narrative that it is an often-ignored ally that is on the front lines of a fight against Assad and terrorism. But Turkey still has NATO support (in fact the jets that shot down the Russian bomber today appear to have been American-made F-16s) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been quick to defend Turkish territorial integrity in this conflict, having shot down jets belonging to the Syrian airforce in the past.

Today's Zaman, a Turkish daily, reports on Turkey's reaction to today's events:

Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned representatives from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to brief them on the downing of a Russian fighter jet. Envoys from the US, Russia, China, France and Britain were called in after the warplane came down along Turkey's Syria border, an official told Reuters.

A spokeswoman for NATO said Turkey will brief the alliance ambassadors on Tuesday about the events surrounding its shooting down of the Russian jet. "There will be a North Atlantic Council meeting this afternoon," at 1500 GMT, Irina Novakova said. "The aim is for Turkey to inform allies about the events of this morning."


Turkey scrambled jets and summoned the Russian ambassador in protest after a Russian fighter jet entered Turkey's airspace on Oct. 3. Russia's Defense Ministry said the jet briefly entered Turkish airspace along the border with Syria but denied a second incident of violation that NATO said had taken place.

NATO then denounced Russia for "irresponsible behavior" following the violations, while Turkey warned that any future aerial intruder would be treated like an enemy.

Russian air incursions, however, are hardly the only reason why Turkey is upset at the moment. Turkey has become a staunch enemy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, and is angered by Russia's air support for new Assad offensives. According to Turkey, which has been supporting certain rebel groups, the war in Syria is an existential threat. Not only that, but recently there has been heavy fighting in parts of Latakia which are populated by Syrian Turkmen, Syrians of Turkish descent who often have strong ties to both their local communities and the Turkish population not far away on the other side of the border. One site of  heavy fighting recently has been Jabal Turkman, but there are other areas affected by Russian airstrikes in the last week or so.

Again, Today's Zaman reports:

Turkey, which has traditionally expressed solidarity with Syrian Turkmens, called this week for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss attacks on a Turkmen area in neighboring Syria. Last week Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the bombing of their villages.

Turkey's domestic politics are certainly complicated, but Russian actions in Syria are not popular there. Bombing Turkmen will likely only add urgency to an already growing frustration with Moscow.

As Business Insider points out, Erdogan has dropped long-time allies and trading partners, namely Israel, for a lot less than this, and while the circumstances are not entirely analogous, of course, Erdogan is not one to look weak or back down:

Both Putin and Erdogan are strongmen, who treat domestic politics as a scorched earth battle for power. Russia's repeated humiliation of Erdogan before his audience at home, both by bombing Turkish clients just across the border and repeatedly breaching Turkish airspace, was therefore a high-risk strategy.

Putin could afford to be relaxed about Erdogan's earlier threats to stop buying Russian natural gas in retaliation: Where else would Turkey find enough gas to substitute a fifth of its energy needs? But the Russian leader should have recognized that Turkey, already host to more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees, has a lot at stake in Syria and, in Erdogan, a president who takes rejection personally.


Putin, too, was supposed to be Erdogan's friend and ally, as they faced down together U.S. and European complaints about the crushing of media freedoms and democratic institutions in their respective countries. Instead, the Russian leader has ignored his burgeoning economic and political relationship with Turkey to pursue his goals in Syria.

Putin Has Misjudged Turkey's Erdogan

The details of how and why a Russian jet was shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border remain unclear, but one thing can already be said: Russian President Vladimir Putin has misjudged his Turkish counterpart and former friend, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

View full page →
Nov 24, 2015 19:40 (GMT)

One thing is clear -- if Putin wants to keep open channels with Turkey, he's going to have to seriously reconsider his air force's flight plans in northern Syria.

-- James Miller