Russia Demands Answers After Turkey Forces Down Syrian Plane

Russia Demands Answers After Turkey Forces Down Syrian Plane

Published: October 11, 2012 (Issue # 1730)

Burhan Ozbilici / AP

People gathering atop the aircraft steps of a Syrian Air plane that was forced by Turkish fighter jets to land at Ankara’s airport late Wednesday.

MOSCOW — Russian diplomats demanded an explanation from Ankara on Thursday after Turkish fighter jets forced down a Syrian passenger plane on suspicion of carrying Russian military equipment on a Moscow-Damascus flight and seized some of its cargo.

Turkish F-16 fighter jets forced the Syrian Air A320 jet with 25 to 35 passengers on board to land late Wednesday afternoon at Ankara’s airport, where Turkish authorities removed communications equipment, radios and radio jammers before allowing the plane to leave nine hours later, at 2:30 a.m., local media reported.

“Today we received information this plane was carrying cargo of a nature that could not possibly be in compliance with the rules of civil aviation,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in remarks shown live on Turkish television.

“We are determined to control weapons transfers to a regime that carries out such brutal massacres against civilians,” he said. “It is unacceptable that such a transfer is made using our airspace.”

But Russia — one of Syria’s few close allies after months of civil unrest that has killed thousands of Syrians and recently spilled over the border into Turkey — questioned Ankara’s decision to ground the plane, which it said was carrying 17 Russians, including children.

“The Russian Embassy in Ankara immediately contacted the Turkish Foreign Ministry and demanded that it clarify the circumstances of the incident and to ask for access to any Russians on board the Syrian aircraft, which was on a regular flight from Moscow to Damascus,” said a Foreign Ministry official in Moscow, according to Interfax.

The official, who was not identified, said Russian diplomats made a beeline for the Ankara airport “to ensure the safety, rights and interests” of the Russian passengers.

Few details have been made public about the cargo seized from the plane.

But a senior Russian official from the arms export industry denied that any military equipment could have been found.

“No weapons, systems or other kinds of military equipment were on board the passenger aircraft nor could there be,” the unidentified official told Interfax.

He said Russia would never carry out military sales to Syria illegally, “especially with the use of civilians.”

Turkey’s foreign minister played down the possibility that the incident might affect relations with Russia.

Syria’s transportation minister angrily accused Turkey of “air piracy.”

Syrian Air offers a weekly charter flight between Damascus and Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. The plane left 20 minutes after its scheduled departure time of 3:06 p.m. Wednesday, Interfax said, citing airport spokeswoman Yelena Krylova.

She said 25 passengers were on board, while Turkish media reports put the figure at 35.

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