Claim: Turkey violated international law by downing Russian plane

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Claim: Turkey violated international law by downing Russian plane

2016-01-08 08:20 GMT
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Al Arabiya’s Maria Dubovikova claims Turkey violates international law by shooting down Russian SU-24 aircraft 

A Russian war plane was shot down due to air space violations on 24 November 2015

In her article published on 25 November 2015, Al Arabiya’s Maria Dubovikova claimed that Turkey violated international law by shooting down a Russian SU-24 aircraft on its border with Syria the day earlier.

She wrote: “Ankara violated international law, as the jet should have been escorted away from Turkish airspace, not shot down.”1

Turkish F-16s shot down the Russian aircraft after it allegedly ignored warnings to turn back and violated Turkish airspace. After the incident took place, many speculations ran through the media. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the SU-24 was over Syrian territory when it was shot down, while the Russian Defense Ministry backed his statement. Russia and Iran particularly criticized Turkey for the downing, as they considered it unnecessary, and accused Turkey of aiding “terrorists” located in the region.

But many other authorities backed Turkey, saying that they considered Turkey to be within its right to defend itself according to the rules of engagement. Former US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone in an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu Agency (AA) said, “I don’t pretend to be an international lawyer, but Turkey’s case seems crystal to me. It published its rules of engagement as it warned several years ago against intrusion from Syria on its national airspace.”

“Turkey sent numerous warnings before shooting. That suggests that Turkey was fully in its rights in this incident,” another American diplomat who served as ambassador to Uzbekistan and Ukraine from 2000 to 2006 told AA. 2

The incident was not the first time Russian aircraft violated Turkish sovereignty. About two months earlier, Russian fighter jets violated Turkish airspace, claiming it was because of bad weather.

However, NATO, of which Turkey is a member state, dismissed that claim, saying it was not an accident.

“Turkey complained that a Russian warplane had violated its airspace on Sunday, the second such breach in three days” the Daily Mail newspaper reported in a news article published on 6 October 2015. 3

Ms. Maria Dubovikova also refers to what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was then prime minister, said when a Turkish F-4 was downed by the Syrian military for entering its airspace in 2012. “The slight violation of the border could not be a pretext for an attack,” Erdogan said at the time.

But there are several points that need to be mentioned.

The Turkish aircraft was on a training flight when it was shot down, while the Russian plane was in active combat operation when it violated Turkish airspace. Furthermore, Russia was conducting operations against the ethnic Turkmens in Bayirbucak on the Syrian side of the border in northern Latakia, as well as other groups that are against the Bashar al-Assad regime, which to date has killed more than 250,000 people since the war started when regime troops began shooting at peaceful protesters in 2011.

The shooting down of the Turkish jet became a turning point for Turkey, which as a result tightened its defences against intrusions by other countries. Four days after the Syrian attack on the Turkish aircraft, Erdogan declared that Turkey’s engagement rules would be changed. The revised rules of engagement included responding to any threats on its border immediately.

Another point worth mentioning is that the Assad regime in Syria was accused of not warning the Turkish aircraft before downing it. However, Turkey gave the Russian jet 10 warnings in five minutes, yet the the aircraft did not change its course.4