Tensions continue to rise in Southern Europe, as opposing nations play cat-and-mouse over the ongoing crisis in Syria. After repeatedly violating Greek airspace at least nine different times without consequences, Turkish military forces recently shot down a Russian aircraft for entering its own airspace for just a few minutes, resulting in the death of one of the two Russian pilots on board.
According to Zero Hedge, the aerial conflict represents just one incident among many that have taken place in recent months, as conditions heat up in the Middle East. Sharing much of its southern border with Syria, Turkey is strategically located in terms of its military presence, but Russia says the NATO-member country, which is causing problems even among its allies, is breaking the law with its actions.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan claims Russia’s violation of its airspace warranted such military engagement, but this was after he had previously declared that “a short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack.” If it was, then Greece, which is also a NATO-member nation, would have had justifiable cause to shoot down Turkey’s war planes when they illegally entered its own airspace.
Following the incident, Russia reportedly came to an agreement with Turkey to allow an observational flight to take place in its airspace. But Turkey later canceled the agreement with Russia, which the former Soviet nation says is just par for the course for a country that continues to engage in illegal military activity on its border with Syria.
“Such steps carried out by a country, which is a NATO member state, in no way contribute to the strengthening of trust and security in Europe,” Stated Russian Defense Ministry spokesman and Major General Igor Konashenkov to journalists at a briefing in Moscow. The cancellation of the flight, he says, represents “a dangerous precedent and an attempt to conceal illegal military activity near the border with Syria.”
Turkey’s aggression towards Russia in both instances represents a violation of the Treaty on Open Skies, an agreement that provisions member states to perform unarmed aerial surveillance flights over participating territories. By restricting Russia from entering its airspace, Turkey is provoking escalated conflict between Russia and Turkey, which also threatens to upend NATO.
During the Moscow press conference, Konashenkov indicated that Turkey’s behavior has prompted Russia to increase its intelligence and surveillance activities throughout the Middle East. Russia, he explained, has been cooperative in allowing some 32 foreign observation flights to take place over Russian territory in 2015, but Turkey is failing to uphold its end of the treaty agreement.
“If someone in Ankara thinks that the cancelation [sic] of the flight by the Russian observers will enable hiding something then they’re unprofessional,” Konashenkov stated, also reminding the world that Moscow has released irrefutable video evidence that Turkey has already engaged in artillery firing on populated areas of Syria, north of the Latakia Province.
“Through this very border crossing,” Konashenkov explained, referring to the Reyhanli border checkpoint, “mainly at nighttime – the militants, who seized the city of Aleppo and Idlib in northwestern Syria, are being supplied with arms and fighters from the Turkish territory.”
As of this writing, Turkey has also failed to furnish Moscow with any data validating its take-down of the Russian aircraft. Russia is now claiming that Turkey fabricated the airspace violation altogether, and that the entire charade represents “a poorly-orchestrated provocation.”
Since September 30, Russia has been initiating airstrikes against the so-called “Islamic State,” reportedly at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Between February 1 and 4, the Russian Air Force carried out 237 such attacks, hitting about 900 supposed terrorist targets, Konashenkov claims.
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