Turkey summoned Russia’s ambassador for a second time after what the foreign ministry said was a second instance of a Russian plane violating Turkish airspace near the Syrian border.
Turkey first lodged its protest with the Russian ambassador and warned of consequences of any future incursions after a Russian jet crossed into Turkish territory on Saturday. The foreign ministry said the second airspace violation took place on Sunday.
Russia’s defense ministry said Monday that incident was the result of bad weather conditions in the area, and that there was no reason to look for conspiracy theories.
‘Solidarity with Turkey’
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday that the violations do not look like an accident.
“I will not speculate on the motives, I would just reiterate or restate that this is a serious violation of Turkish airspace, it should not happen again, and NATO has expressed strong solidarity with Turkey,” Stoltenberg said.
He added that Russia’s increased military presence in Syria raises also raises concerns because it has attacked not only Islamic State fighters, but also other opposition groups and “many civilians have lost their lives.”
Russian planes have been conducting airstrikes in Syria since last week targeting both Islamic State fighters and what it called “terrorist” groups. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Russia, has frequently used the term “terrorist” to describe the rebels who have fought against his government for more than four years.
On Monday, a top Russian lawmaker said “a unit of Russian volunteers,” including battle hardened veterans who fought in eastern Ukraine, may join Syrian government troops fighting Islamic State extremists on the ground.
Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, in comments to Russia’s Interfax-AVN news agency, said Russian involvement on the ground in Syria is “likely.”
Komoyedov, the head of the Russian parliament’s defense committee, did not suggest a timetable for any Russian involvement, and there was no immediate comment from the government.
The lawmaker’s remarks came in response to unconfirmed media reports that Russian volunteers already have been spotted fighting alongside the Syrian army.
‘Reckless’ and provocative
The U.S. State Department on Monday called the intrusions by Russian jets “reckless” and provocative, and Russian military involvement in Syria “a strategic mistake, in general.”
The White House also voiced concern, while an unnamed senior U.S. defense official said the intrusions were not accidental. “This was the kind of unprofessional conduct we were hoping to avoid,” the official said.
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior analyst at the Brookings Institution, told VOA that, for the moment, he would offer Russia “the benefit of the doubt and assume [the overflights] were a mistake. I don’t know that Russia was trying to provoke anybody. I could be wrong,” he said. “We’ll see if it happens again.”
Syria Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Russian airstrikes in Syria followed months of preparations, according to the official Syrian news agency SANA on Monday.
Dozens of Syrian insurgent groups on Monday, however, vowed to attack Russian forces in the wake of Moscow’s air campaign in the country.
“This new reality requires the region’s countries and the allies in specific to hasten in forming a regional alliance to face the Russian-Iranian alliance that occupies Syria,” 41 factions said in a statement released by the Ahrar al-Sham group.
Assad said Sunday the entire Middle East would be destroyed if Russia’s aerial bombardment of militants opposed to his government does not succeed.
(Screenshot from a Russian defence ministry video that the ministry says shows Russian bombing in Syria)