The United States and NATO denounced Russia on Monday for violating Turkish airspace and Ankara threatened to respond, reporting two incursions in two days and raising the prospect of direct confrontation between the former Cold War adversaries.
NATO held an emergency meeting in Brussels of ambassadors from its 28 member states to respond to what Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called “unacceptable violations of Turkish airspace” after a Russian jet crossed its frontier with Syria on Saturday.
A Russian warplane again violated Turkish airspace on Sunday, a Turkish foreign ministry official said late on Monday, prompting Ankara to summon Moscow’s ambassador.
It had done the same following Saturday’s violation, and said Russia would be held “responsible for any undesired incident that may occur” if it were repeated.
NATO members “strongly protest” and “condemn” incursions into Turkish and NATO territory, the alliance said after the first incursion was reported.
The White House called the Russian move a “provocation,” and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it illustrated concerns about an escalated Syrian conflict.
“Had Turkey responded … it could have resulted in a shootdown, and it is precisely the kind of thing we warned against,” Kerry said during a visit to Chile.
The Russian Defence Ministry said on Monday that an SU-30 fighter aircraft had entered Turkish airspace along the border with Syria “for a few seconds” on Saturday.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there was no sign Russia had changed its strategy to concentrate on fighting Islamic State.
The Russian Defence Ministry said its planes flew 15 stories over Syria on Monday, attacking 10 Islamic State targets and destroying around 20 of the group’s tanks in Homs province.
Russian officers will visit Israel on Tuesday to discuss how those countries can avoid accidentally clashing while operating in Syria, an Israeli military officer said. Israel has attacked Syrian armed forces and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters during the four-year civil war in Syria.
The potential confrontation comes at a time when relations between Russia and the West are at their worst since the Cold War, with the United States and European Union having imposed financial sanctions on Moscow over its intervention in Ukraine.
Over the past year, NATO has repeatedly accused Moscow of sending planes to violate the airspace of the alliance’s member countries in Europe.
Speaking during a trip to Spain, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter compared Moscow’s effort to bolster Assad to tethering itself to a sinking ship.
“By taking military action in Syria against moderate groups targets, Russia has escalated the civil war,” Carter said. (Source: Syrian Coalition + Agencies)