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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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Angry Russia says downing of plane was ’planned provocation’ by Turkey

Plans to deploy anti-aircraft missiles in Syria

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MOSCOW/DAMASCUS - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey was a "planned provocation" even as the Russian defense minister announced plans to deploy anti-aircraft missiles in Syria a move likely to ratchet up tensions.

Lavrov also announced that one of the two pilots on board the plane had been rescued.

"We have serious doubts that it was unintentional, it looks like a planned provocation," Lavrov said, according to Russian news agency TASS. "We are not planning to wage a war against Turkey, our attitude towards the Turkish people has not changed. We have questions only to the Turkish leadership."

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said on Twitter that Moscow would deploy S-400 defense missile systems to its Hmeymim airbase near Latakia, on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

The missiles have a range of 250 km, according to themissilethreat.com website -- or 155 miles. The Turkish border is less than 30 miles away.

One of the two pilots of the Russian plane was rescued early Wednesday, a day after the aircraft was shot down in the Bayirbucak region of northwestern Syria near the Turkish border. Both pilots had parachuted out of the plane but one of them was killed by gunfire from the ground.

Shoygu told Russian media that the other pilot was rescued by Russian and Syrian government forces and is "safe and sound" at a Russian air base in Syria. A marine involved in the rescue operation was killed

Turkey has said that it issued 10 warnings in five minutes to the Russian plane. Russia's defense ministry denied those claims. A US Defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the incident told USA TODAY the jet appeared to enter Turkish airspace briefly.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his country does not want to escalate tensions with Russia over the incident.

Erdogan said Turkey favors "peace, dialogue and diplomacy," but defended his country's actions and added "no one should expect Turkey to stay silent to border violations or the violation of its rights."

The rescued pilot, Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin told Russian news agency Sputnik that he received no warnings from Turkish jets before his aircraft was shot down. He also denied the aircraft left Syrian airspace.

"There were no warnings. Not via the radio, not visually. There was no contact whatsoever," Murakhtin told Sputnik.

Murakhtin and his pilot, Lieutenant-colonel Oleg Peshkov, were shot down on the Syrian-Turkish border by Turkish F16 fighters on Tuesday morning. Both men ejected but Peshkov was killed by Syrian rebels, according to Russian defense officials. Turkey has said the men's Su-24 jet was downed because it violated Turkish airspace, a claim Russia has disputed.

Murakhtin said that no attempt was made to warn the Russian crew.

"You have to understand what the cruising speed of a bomber is compared to an F-16. If they wanted to warn us, they could have shown themselves by heading on a parallel course. But there was nothing," he said.

"The rocket hit our tail completely unexpectedly. We didn't even see it in time to take evasive maneuvers."

Turkish officials have said the plane only spent 17 seconds inside Turkish airspace, meaning the fighters fired on the Russian plane almost immediately after they crossed the border.

Murakhtin, who was the plane's navigator, also insisted that the plane at no point crossed the border into Turkey.> BNN

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