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World & Nation

Turkey releases recording of ‘warnings’ to Russian plane

APphoto_Mideast Turkey Syria Plane

A frame grab from video by Haberturk TV shows a Russian warplane on fire before crashing on a hill as seen from Hatay province, Turkey, on Nov. 24. 

(Haberturk TV / Associated Press)

Turkey has released audio recordings of what it says are the Turkish military’s repeated warnings to the pilot of a Russian warplane before it was shot down at the border with Syria -- audio that grows increasingly more agitated.

The recordings, made available to the Associated Press on Thursday, indicate that the plane was warned several times Tuesday that it was approaching Turkey’s airspace and that it was asked to change course.

Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24 bomber on Tuesday, insisting the aircraft had violated its airspace despite repeated warnings. It was the first time in half a century that a NATO member had shot down a Russian plane.

A surviving crew member of the plane has denied that his jet veered into Turkey’s airspace and rejected Turkey’s claim that it had issued repeated warnings to the Russian crew.

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The downing prompted dueling comments Thursday from the two countries’ leaders. Russian President Vladimir Putin complained that Turkey still hadn’t apologized for downing the plane or given assurances that “the culprits of this crime” will be punished, while a slew of economic sanctions were drafted against Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in no mood to apologize, and said on a defiant note that his military is ready to do the same if another air intrusion happens.

The spat reflects a clash of ambitions of two strongman leaders, neither of whom appeared willing to back down and search for a compromise.

Erdogan instead lashed out at Russia, accusing it of using its fight against the Islamic State group in Syria as a pretext to target opposition groups, including the Turkmen, in a bid to strengthen Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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Erdogan said Turkey had not specifically targeted Russia when it shot down the plane, saying it was “an automatic response” in line with its rules of engagement.

“Faced with the same violation today, Turkey would give the same response,” Erdogan said. “It’s the country that carried out the violation which should question itself and take measures to prevent it from happening again, not the country that was subjected to a violation.”

The series of 10 audio clips were released by the prime minister’s office and sourced to the Turkish Armed Forces.

In the recordings, a voice is heard saying in broken English: “This is Turkish Air Force speaking on guard. You are approaching Turkish airspace. Change your heading south immediately.”

Most of the audio is garbled and barely comprehensible but the tone of the voice gets more agitated as the warnings appear to go unnoticed.

The audio that was released only involved Turkish warnings, with no replies. It was not clear if Turkey had received any replies from the Russian pilots but did not release them, or if the Russian pilots never replied to the warnings, or if the Russians never heard the warnings.

One of the Russian pilots was killed by militants in Syria after ejecting from the plane, while his crewmate was rescued by Syrian army commandos. A Russian marine was also killed by the militants during the rescue mission.

Speaking in televised comments from the Russian military base in Syria, the surviving navigator of the downed plane, Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin, insisted that the plane did not enter Turkish airspace “even for a single second.” Turkey insists that the plane was in its airspace for 17 seconds.

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In retaliation for the downing, Russia announced Wednesday it will deploy long-range air defense missiles to its base in Syria and destroy any target that may threaten its warplanes. The state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Thursday that the Russian S-400 air missiles had been delivered in Syria.

Speaking at the Kremlin, Putin complained that he has not received an apology from Turkey nor an offer “to make up for the damages.” He said he regretted the fact that relations between Turkey and Russia have been driven into a stalemate.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow believes that the U.S. State Department has information about the men who shot the Russian pilot as he parachuted down. She said Russian officials are waiting for Washington to share information about “who was dancing over the body of the Russian pilot.”

Zakharova also urged Turkey to speak up about the rebels who killed the pilot.

“Either confirm that these are the people that you defend, then we will finally see what this moderate opposition is. Or say that you don’t have anything to do with it and express your position about their actions,” she said.

Erdogan, meanwhile, challenged Russia to prove its accusation that Turkey is buying oil and gas from Islamic State, calling the claims “shameful” and making the counterclaim that Islamic State was selling its oil to Assad.

Erdogan also lamented reports that Russia was stopping projects with Turkey, saying political and leaders should talk first.

“We are strategic partners” with Russia, he said.

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