Syria conflict: Turkey tells Russia to avoid clash

Russian SU-24M jet takes off at Hmeimim air base in Syria, 6 October 2015 (Russian defence ministry picture) Image copyright AP
Image caption The Turkish prime minister said most Russian air strikes had targeted Syria's moderate rebel opposition

Turkey will not compromise on border security, but does not want Russian incursions into its airspace to escalate into a crisis with Nato, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said.

Russia's envoy to Ankara has been summoned three times in response to recent violations of Turkey's airspace.

Russia's air campaign in Syria began a week ago, but Mr Davutoglu said only two of its 57 sorties had targeted jihadists from the Islamic State group.

Turkey is a member of Nato's alliance.

Its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, upped the stakes on Tuesday, telling Russia that any "attack on Turkey means an attack on Nato," referring to the alliance's collective defence doctrine, which commits all members to protect one another.

"If Russia loses a friend like Turkey with whom it has a lot of co-operation it is going to lose a lot of things. It needs to know this," Mr Erdogan said.

The prime minister told reporters on Wednesday there would be no concession on violations of the country's airspace by Russian fighter jets.

However, other government officials indicated that Turkey wanted Russian military officials to explain their actions and give details of how they would avoid potential clashes in the future.

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"Russia is a friend but if the repeated incursions continue, we will perceive it as a threat and not as friendly behaviour," ruling AK party spokesman Omer Celik said.

Another spokesman denied Russian reports that a joint military working group was being set up to co-ordinate air operations over Syria.

However, Russia's defence ministry suggested consultations of this nature were already under way, posting a picture on its Twitter page.

Image copyright Russian Defence Ministry

Three violations of Turkish airspace have been reported so far:

  • Russia said an SU-30 warplane had entered Turkish airspace "by mistake" on Saturday for a few seconds, because of bad weather
  • On Sunday, a Mig-29 - which analysts say may have been Syrian - locked its radar on to Turkish jets for more than five minutes over the Turkish-Syrian border
  • An unidentified fighter jet locked its radar on to eight Turkish jets on Monday

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg complained on Tuesday that Russia had not provided any real explanation for its violations, which "lasted for a long time" and "did not look like an accident". He also pointed to reports of a build-up of ships and ground troops in Syria.

Mr Davutoglu said the bulk of Russian air strikes had been against Syria's moderate opposition.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Wednesday that the Syrian army and pro-government militiamen had launched an offensive against rebel forces on four fronts in the north-western provinces of Idlib and Hama.

The UK-based monitoring group said rebel positions had been bombarded with surface-to-surface missiles, triggering "the most intense fighting in months".