Russian pilot says Turkey issued no warning before downing plane

Putin sends missile system to Syria as Turkey releases audio recording of warning

Russia sent an advanced missile system to Syria on Wednesday to protect its jets operating there and pledged its air force would keep flying missions near Turkish air space, sounding a defiant note after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet.

Underscoring the message, Russian forces launched a heavy bombardment against insurgent-held areas in Latakia on Wednesday, near where the jet was downed, Syrian rebels and a monitoring group said.

Jets believed to be Russian also hit a depot for trucks waiting to go through a major rebel-controlled border crossing with Turkey, the head of the crossing said.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov described the downing of the plane as a planned act and said it would impact efforts towards a political solution in Syria.

Surviving pilot

A Russian airman who survived the downing of his warplane has said Turkish jets did not issue any warnings before the incident.

Captain Konstantin Murakhtin told a Russian TV station that his plane was flying over Syrian territory and did not violate Turkish air space.

Mr Murakhtin was rescued early on Wednesday by Russian and Syrian commandos and was speaking in televised comments from the Russian Hemeimeem air base in Syria.

The surviving pilot was quoted by Russian agencies as saying the crew “knew the region like the back of their hand” and that there were no visual or radio warnings from Turkey.

The Turkish military later released what it said was an audio recording of a warning to the Russian fighter jet .

A voice on the recording can be heard saying “change your heading” in English.

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara does not want any escalation following the incident, insisting it had simply acted to defend its own security and the "rights of our brothers" in Syria.

Speaking at a business event in Istanbul, Mr Erdogan said the Russian jet had been fired at while in Turkish air space but had crashed inside Syria, although he said parts of it landed in Turkey and injured two Turkish citizens.

“We have no intention of escalating this incident. We are only defending our own security and the rights of our brothers,” Mr Erdogan said, adding that Turkey’s policy in Syria would not change.

“We will continue our humanitarian efforts on both sides of the (Syrian) border. We are determined to take all necessary measures to prevent a new wave of immigration.”

But while neither side has shown any interest in a military escalation, Russia has made clear it will exact economic revenge through trade and tourism.

Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday that important joint projects could be cancelled and Turkish firms could lose Russian market share.

The downing of the jet on Tuesday was one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a Nato member and Russia for half a century, and further complicated international efforts to battle Islamic State militants in Syria.

‘Serious consequences’

Russian president Vladimir Putin said earlier that the plane was attacked when it was 1km inside Syria and warned of "serious consequences" for what he described as a stab in the back administered by "the accomplices of terrorists".

Mr Putin was speaking in televised comments after defence minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian news agencies that the second pilot of the jet was rescued in a 12-hour operation and is “safe and sound” at Russia’s air base in Syria.

Moscow's ambassador to France Alexander Orlov said earlier that one of the two pilots was wounded, then killed on the ground by "jihadists" after landing with his parachute.

Mr Orlov told Europe-1 radio the other pilot “managed to escape and be rescued by the Syrian army”.

The Russian ambassador accused Nato member Turkey of being an “accomplice” of Islamic State extremists and playing an ambiguous role in Syria’s civil war.

Broad alliance

US president Barack Obama and French president Francois Hollande, seeking to forge a broader alliance against Islamic State after attacks in Paris this month, pressed Russia to focus on the jihadist group and urged Moscow and Ankara not to let the situation escalate.

Turkey has been angered by Russian air strikes in Syria targeting Turkmens near its border, who are Syrians of Turkish descent.

It has repeatedly warned Russia over air space violations since October and last week summoned the Russian ambassador to protest against the bombing of Turkmen villages.

Mr Putin has said Russian planes had in no way threatened Turkey, but had merely been carrying out their duty to fight Islamic State militants inside Syria.

Mr Erdogan dismissed that version of events.

“It has been said that they were there to fight Daesh,” he said of Russian air strikes, and using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

“First of all, the Daesh terrorist organisation does not have a presence in this region of Latakia and the north where Turkmens are based. Let’s not fool ourselves.”

He said Turkey had made a “huge effort” to prevent an incident like the downing of the Russian aircraft, but that the limits of its patience had been tested.

Mr Putin on Wednesday accused Turkey’s political leaders of encouraging the “Islamisation” of Turkish society, something he described as a deeper problem than the downing of the jet.

Economic revenge

Increased tensions could have significant economic and political repercussions which are in neither Moscow nor Ankara’s interests, analysts warned.

But both Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan are strong-willed leaders ill-disposed to being challenged.

“If Erdogan becomes involved a cycle of violence, FDI (foreign direct investment), tourism, and relations with the EU and US will all be in jeopardy,” risk analysis firm Eurasia Group said in a note.

“Our bet is that the episode will not escalate . . . National interest will probably prevail over emotion, but given the players, that’s not a sure bet.”

Turkey imports almost all of its energy from Russia, including 60 per cent of its gas and 35 per cent of its oil.

Russia’s state Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) is due to build Turkey’s first nuclear power station, a $20 billion project, while plans are on the table for a gas pipeline from Russia known as TurkStream.

Turkish building and beverage companies also have significant interests in Russia.

Additional reporting: PA