Russian President, Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered state-of-the art air defense missile systems to be deployed at a Russian air base in Syria following the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey, a move that raised the threat of a military confrontation between the NATO member and Russia.
The S-400 missile systems, which will be sent to the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, located just about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the border with Turkey, are capable of targeting Turkish jets with deadly precision. If Russia shot down a Turkish plane, NATO would be required to intervene.
Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber Tuesday, saying it crossed into its airspace from Syria despite repeated warnings. One of its two pilots was killed by militants after bailing out, while his crewmate was rescued by Syrian army commandos and delivered in good condition to the Russian base.
Putin said the Russian plane remained in Syria’s skies when it was shot down. He described Turkey’s action as a “crime” and a “stab in the back,” warning of serious consequences.
On Wednesday, Putin ordered the military to deploy the S-400s to Hemeimeem and took other measures that “should be sufficient to ensure flight safety.”
Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday that the Russian missile cruiser Moskva already has moved closer to shore to protect the Russian aircraft flying missions near Syria’s border with Turkey with its long-range Fort air defense system.
Shoigu also said that from now on, all Russian bombers will be escorted by fighters on their combat missions in Syria. He said that his ministry has severed all contacts with the Turkish military.
Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, who canceled his planned trip to Turkey after the incident, described the shooting down of the Russian plane as a “planned provocation.”
He said the Turkish action came after Russian planes successfully targeted the oil infrastructure used by the Islamic State, alleging that Turkey benefited from the oil trade. Lavrov also said that Turkish territory was used by “terrorists” to prepare terror attacks in other countries, but offered no details.
He said that Russia “has no intention to go to war with Turkey,” but added that Moscow will re-consider its ties with Ankara. The Russian Foreign Ministry already has warned Russians against traveling to Turkey, and some leading Russian tourist agencies suspended the sales of tour packages to Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his country does not wish to escalate tensions with Russia over the downing of the plane.