On Wednesday, Nov. 25, US President Barack Obama, in a conversation with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey has the right to defend its territory just like any other country. He also said that the Russian Su-24 plane crossed the border and stayed in Turkey for 17 seconds. In other words, it was 1.6 km inside Turkish territory. However, when it was hit by an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile fired by the Turkish F-16, it was either right on the border or already inside Syrian territory. The pilots apparently landed on the Syrian side of the border and Moscow announced Wednesday that both were “in safe hands.”
No matter how the incident is interpreted, it has generated five points that could lead to an aerial or naval clash between US and Russian forces in the Syrian theater.
1. It was the first time in 65 years, since 1950, that an American-made warplane from a NATO member state shot down a Russian warplane with an American-made air-to-air missile. This ramifications of this incident were no doubt seriously pondered at the NATO session called after the event.
2. Obama did not only come out in support of the Turkish version of the incident, but asserted that Putin did not speak the truth when he said that the plane was 1 km inside Syrian territory when it was shot down. The Russian president has not yet answered the charge, but there is no doubt that he will.
3. The military clash between Russia and Turkey has now become part of the personal contest between Obama and Putin over the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Obama says that as long as Assad remains in power, not only will there be no agreement on how to end the war in Syria, but it will be impossible to defeat ISIS.
Putin says, the exact opposite: that it is impossible to end the war, or to defeat ISIS, without Assad as president. After those goals are achieved, he says, Assad’s future may be discussed.
Read More: US-Russian discord over Syria stoked by Turkey’s downing of the Russian warplane