The Russian Bomber Shot Down by Turkey: Challenging the Accepted Narrative (Part 1)

 Russian will likely put an end to Turkey President Erdogan’s goal of toppling Syria’s Assad regime. Pictured: a SU-24 Russian bomber. (Photo: Wikipedia)


Russian will likely put an end to Turkey President Erdogan’s goal of toppling Syria’s Assad regime. Pictured: a SU-24 Russian bomber. (Photo: Wikipedia)

1.

A few days ago the western media broadcasted a report — with something approaching glee and pomposity — on how a U.S.-made Turkish Air Force jet shut down a Russian SU-24 fighter jet in “self-defense.” The widely distributed — and generally accepted — official narratives used to support this position went as follows:

The incident occurred very near to the Turkish border with Syria, in Turkish territory, close to where Turkey’s Hatay and Syria’s Latakia Province meet in a region of wooded, mountainous terrain. According to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France, Hatay province was part of Syria in the original French mandate but was annexed by Turkish President Ataturk in 1939. Syria has never relinquished its claim to the province. At its widest point the province is approximately only 35 miles wide.

The Turks claim that the two Su-24s approached the southernmost tip of Turkey, crossed over into Turkish territory and were warned via radio to change course ten times over a period of approximately five minutes. According to what can now be considered the official Turkish account, the two Russian fighters, flying at an altitude of 19,000 feet, are alleged to have violated Turkish airspace for a total of 17 seconds at a depth of 1.15 miles and 1.36 miles, respectively, at approximately 09.24 am local time. The first aircraft was described as having turned south back into Syrian territory, but the second aircraft was alleged to have stayed in Turkey’s airspace and was ultimately fired on by at least one of two Turkish F-16s flying Combat Air Patrol (CAP) in the area. The plane crashed deep inside Syrian territory.

The early reports of the incident were based entirely on Turkish sources without corroboration from any source, nor further verification. This should have been enough of a warning sign that something was amiss with the reporting. Still, the narrative was immediately embraced by the media in the United States and Western Europe as if it were nothing short of gospel. But a careful review of even the Turkish reporting suggests that the narrative was full of holes, at the very least inaccurate, at most, an outright fabrication.

2.

Let’s assess the official story being told to see if it adds up. Before proceeding, a few facts about the Russian SU-24 would help substantiate the accuracy — or lack thereof — of the official narratives.

The Sukhoi-24 (SU-24) is a supersonic, all-weather bomber aircraft developed in the Soviet Union. Its first flight was in July 2, 1967 and it has a top speed of 817 mph. The aircraft features a side-by-side seating arrangement for its two crews. It was the first of the USSR’s aircraft to carry an integrated digital navigation/attack system. It remains in service with the Russian Air Force and various air forces to which it was exported.

Let us now return to the official narratives.

At the depth of 1.35 mile the land is about 2 miles in width. Turkey’s claim that the SU-24 was in its airspace for 17 seconds but only traveled 1.15 miles means that the SU-24 was flying at stall speed! This fact, among others, was somehow was lost on the western media.

Furthermore, even assuming that Turkey’s claim of a 17-second airspace violation is true, 17 seconds is not long enough for a Turkish pilot to get clearance for such a serious and reckless act as shooting down a Russian military aircraft. If the SU-24 was flying at its normal speed rather than at a speed at which it would have been impossible to keep the aircraft aloft, the alleged airspace violation would not have been long enough to be noticed. If our logic is accurate here, the shooting down of the Russian jet plane was not a spontaneous act, as the events transpired too quickly. Our conclusion: the attack had to have been pre-arranged. It is likely that the Turks, knowing that the Russians were foolishly adhering to the September 30, 2015 U.S.-Russian agreement that there be no air-to-air encounters, told pilots to look for an opportunity.

Turkey’s explanation to the UN Security Council gives itself away as a lie. The letter states: “This morning (24 November) 2 SU-24 planes, the nationality of which are unknown have approached Turkish national airspace. The planes in question have been warned 10 times during a period of 5 minutes via ‘Emergency’ channel and asked to change their headings south immediately.”

“The nationality of which are unknown”? This statement not only flies in the face of US and Russian flight path arrangement, the SU-24s are Russian aircraft, and Turkish pilots would have been able to identify them; how then can the nationality of the aircraft have been unknown? Would Turkey risk shooting down a US or Israeli aircraft by firing at an unknown aircraft? If the SU-24 takes 17 seconds to fly 1.15 miles, the SU-24s would have only traveled 20.29 miles in five minutes. Does anyone believe that a supersonic aircraft can fly at stall speed for 17 seconds, much less for five minutes?

Notwithstanding this basic fact, the official version of the event maintained by Turkey is contested by the SU-24 rescued pilot Captain Murakhtin, who insisted, after his rescue in a delicate operation, that his plane did not cross into Turkey’s airspace. He emphasized that he was given no visual or radio warning before being fired at.

“It’s impossible that we violated their airspace even for a second,” Captain Murakhtin told the press. “We were flying at an altitude of 6,000 meters in completely clear weather, and I had total control of our flight path throughout.”

If the plane, in fact, did not violate Turkish airspace, as Murakhtin insists, the whole narrative that the Turkish government has put forth begins to lose credibility and, in fact starts to unravel. It also suggest then the incident must have been preplanned and that the fundamental facts offered by the Turks are fallacious. Put more bluntly, as this and other information emerges, it appears that the Turks have fabricated their version of events. Something else happened.

Our assessment that the incident was preplanned is reinforced from an unlikely quarter: it is shared by the former Vice Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, who told Fox News:

“This airplane was not making any maneuvers to attack the territory…it was probably pressing the limits, that’s fair. But you don’t shoot ’em down just because of that.”… “I think it was an overly aggressive maneuver and at NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense] command region we would not use this kind of rules of engagement. That had to be preplanned.”

Russia maintains that the jet had been in Syrian airspace when it was shot down. As a matter of fact, Russia’s General Staff, commenting on the incident, said that it was actually a Turkish jet that went after the Su-24 violating the Syrian airspace.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mu’allem also stated that the incident shows that Turkish President Recep Erdogan and his government are “helping terrorists in Syria,” adding that Turkey violated Syria’s sovereignty by attacking the jet in its airspace.

“The effort to destroy the forces of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and other terrorist groups offended Turkey. That is why they aggressively violated Syria’s sovereignty and attacked the Su-24 in its airspace,” Mu’allem said.

3.

So why then was this Russian jet fighter shot down?

Our assessments lead us to two possible scenarios:

One: To embrace the idea that Turkey indeed shot the fighter plane, but reread the narratives. The answer to the above question becomes clear if we were to look back and reflect on what has happened since the Russian intervention. In the seven weeks since Russia began military operations in Syria, nearly all of the gains of the US-Turkey-Saudi-Qatar jihadi coalition have been wiped out. The decisive battle took place more than a week ago at Kuweris airbase east of Aleppo. This was the tipping point for the war although the imminent fall of Aleppo is bound to attract more notoriety. It’s clear now that the Russian-led coalition is winning the war and closing in on the Syrian-Turkish border which will put an end to Erdogan’s and US’s dream of toppling Assad. They both know that if the progress is not stopped soon the bulk of the foreign mercenaries so vehemently supported by US’s regional cronies, will either be killed or captured or move into Turkey to further destabilize the current precarious ethnic dynamics in Turkey.

The Obama administration realizes that the current phase of the war is hopeless and has started to implement a fallback plan to control territory in East Syria that is critical for future pipeline corridors. In contrast, Erdogan is completely unwilling to accept the fact that his plan has failed which is why it has embarked on this risky strategy to draw either NATO or Washington deeper into the fray by shooting down the Russian fighter jet. It is a desperate attempt to salvage the failed strategy of toppling a secular government and replacing it with friendly Islamic extremists who hew to Erdogan’s twisted worldview.

Furthermore, if in fact the Russian jet was shot down in Syria and was, as we suspect, a preplanned attack, the question becomes why and why now? There is a possibility that the Turks — and their allies — were hoping for a Russian military response, i.e., a Russian attack somewhere in Turkey which did not happen. The Russians, as this hypothesis goes, did not take the bait. Had they done so, the regional tension level would have been ratcheted up, providing those who are calling for a NATO no-fly zone a la Iraq and Libya greater leverage. To the contrary, as this incident begins to turn more and more against Turkey rather than Russia, the call for a no-fly zone over Northern Syria has lost much of its potency. We have strong suspicions that this is what the incident was probably about in the first place.

Two: There is a second possible scenario that few, not the Russians and certainly not the Turks are talking about, but which we do not rule out: to completely dispense with the current narratives and maintain that the real perpetrators are one of the terrorists’ mercenary groups operating inside Syria close to the border with Turkey and that they did so using a surface-to-air Stinger missile of the variety given to the Taliban in Afghanistan which have reappeared in different war situations since.

Although far from the scene of the incident we do not rule out this possible scenario and are waiting for more information to confirm or reject it one way or another. Keep in mind that all we have seen in the media is the Russian jet plane going down. Not the Turks nor the Russians have yet provided us with the moment of impact. The fact remains that despite this or that claim no evidence has been submitted concerning how this plane was shot down.

To understand why Turkey was ready to move forward to take the blame, we need to go back to few weeks ago. In conversation with the press a few weeks ago, President Putin made it crystal clear to the Saudi and Qataris (the financiers of all terrorist organizations operating in the Middle East and beyond) that Russia will not tolerate any threat by these mercenaries and would hold these two countries especially responsible for any attack against Russia. He indicated that he is prepared even to use article 51 of the UN charter to attack them in self-defense:

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Since a Stinger surface-to-air missile was used by various terrorist groups in the past and since we have not been given the video recording of the original attack, what we have is only the plane falling from the sky, and since the area is controlled by Turkmen tribes that Turkey arms and finances to attack Syrian government troops, it is conceivable that Turkey took the blame to protect its partners in crime, the Saudis and Qataris, for a hefty financial reward.

In the next part of this series we will explore the “Stinger Missile Hypothesis” (that the Russian jet might have been brought down by a hand held Stinger missile and not the Turkish jet fighter in greater depth). Stay tuned.

Ibrahim Kazerooni received a joint PhD from the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He is originally from Najaf, Iraq.

Rob Prince is a retired Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. He lives in Denver.

Kazerooni and Prince have been commentators on Middle East developments at KGNU in Boulder, Colorado, for the past five years. They appear monthly on the program “Hemispheres” produced and directed by Jim Nelson.

  • Jason Unwin

    Interesting. I would think the positions of Turkish aircraft would have to be determined, track of the aircraft, point of impact/detonation and the path of the wreckage to crash site. If the Turkish aircraft were not in a position to make the kill shot, then that leaves the SAM option. Could it be something else besides a Stinger? Would the aircraft have received a warning of a missile launch? Were counter measures like chaff deployed? I am not an expert but remember the A-10s dropping chaff during gunnery exercises in West Germany.

    • Rob Prince

      yes it could be…(something else besides a Stinger)…we are simply not ruling out the possibility as, if the main scenario is wrong, there needs to be another explanation. We expect with time, more details of what actually happened would come to the surface…

      • Jason Unwin

        Thank you. You wouldn’t happen to have the GPS/ Longitude Latitude of the crash site would you? I guess any aircraft entering into the maximum effective range of a weapon system could be potentially shot down. It might help in determining the potential launch site and who pulled the trigger. Then again, I wouldn’t surprised if there were Turkish Special Forces units working with the Turkmen in their border areas.

        • Rob Prince

          no we don’t have that information but these are interesting, valid points and I will follow up on them. Thanx – Rob P.

          • Jason Unwin

            You are welcome. Good luck. :-)

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