Missing Russian jet pilot 'alive and well' in Syria

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Media caption,

The BBC's John Simpson: "The Turks say they warned the pilot ten times in five minutes"

A Russian pilot who went missing after his jet was shot down by Turkey while taking part in air strikes over Syria was rescued in a 12-hour operation involving special forces, Russia says.

The pilot is "alive and well" at a Russian air base in Syria, it says.

His co-pilot and a marine involved in a failed rescue attempt were killed.

Turkey said the jet had strayed into its airspace but Russian President Vladimir Putin says the plane was flying over Syrian territory.

It is not clear what has happened to the body of the other pilot, who was killed by gunfire as he parachuted from his burning plane.

Tensions have escalated between the two countries over the incident, and Russia has broken off military contacts with Turkey. The US, the EU and the UN have all appealed for calm.

Analysis: Mark Lowen, BBC Turkey correspondent

After Turkey became the first Nato member to shoot down a Russian plane in over half a century, the question now is how will Moscow respond?

President Putin called Turkey an "accomplice of terrorists" and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled a planned trip to the Turkish capital Ankara on Wednesday.

But the UN and Nato have urged both sides to de-escalate the crisis. According to Ankara, the Russian Su-24 was warned 10 times about entering Turkish airspace, though Moscow says there was no such communication.

But Turkey also said the violation lasted just 17 seconds. And given signs that a united front was beginning to form against Islamic State, there will be diplomatic pressure on both sides to focus instead on the common threat from the militants.

The tough talk from Ankara and Moscow will no doubt continue - but whether there will be serious retaliation is less clear.

President Putin has described the downing of the plane as a "stab in the back", and warned of serious consequences.

Turkey's President Recep Erdogan has defended the action, saying "everyone must respect the right of Turkey to protect its borders", but he stressed he did not want to escalate tensions further.

Turkey is a member of Nato. The alliance has backed Turkey's version of events, although it, too, is calling for "diplomacy and de-escalation" to resolve the situation.

The two pilots - Lt Col Oleg Peshkov and Capt Konstantin Murakhtin - came under ground fire after they parachuted from their burning plane, Russia said.

Lt Col Peshkov was killed, and there had been various reports about the fate of Capt Murakhtin.

He was rescued by Russian and Syrian special forces in a 12-hour operation and was brought to the Russian base in Syria "alive and well", Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu said.

Soldier Aleksandr Pozynich was killed during the operation to rescue the pilots after his helicopter came under fire from rebels during "an emergency landing on neutral territory", Russian officials said.

President Putin said Lt Col Peshkov would posthumously be awarded Russia's highest award for valour, the Hero of Russia, and the other two men would be decorated with Orders of Courage (one of them posthumously).

Heated rhetoric

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Protesters threw eggs and stones at the Turkish embassy in Moscow

While they talk of not wanting to escalate tensions, both Russia and Turkey had some harsh words for each other on Wednesday:

"We have serious doubts about this being an unpremeditated act, it really looks like a planned provocation" - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Turkey's downing of the jet.

"We should be honest here. Supporting someone who is practising state terror... if you confirm, if you approve violence or oppression you are (an) oppressor," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an apparent reference to Russia's support for Syria's President Assad.

"The problem is not the tragedy we witnessed yesterday. The problem is much deeper. We observe ... that the current Turkish leadership over a significant number of years has been pursuing a deliberate policy of supporting the Islamisisation of their country," Russian President Vladimir Putin on Turkey.

"No-one can legitimise attacks on Turkmen in Syria using the pretext of fighting the Islamic State," Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu suggesting Russia is not being honest about its targets in Syria.

Russian defence officials say the plane never entered Turkish territory, and that Turkish pilots made no attempt to communicate with the Russians before they fired.

Turkey says it warned them repeatedly before shooting the plane down.

Russia has announced fighter jets will now escort its bombers during air strikes over Syria, and Moscow is sending out its most advanced anti-aircraft missile system, the S-400.

Russia and Turkey have found themselves on opposing sides in Syria's conflict, with Russia supporting President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey is a staunch critic.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Turkmen rebels showed off what appear to be part of the pilots' evacuation equipment near the northern Syrian village of Yamadi

Russians have been advised not to visit Turkey - a popular tourist destination for Russians - and one of Russia's largest tour operators, Natali Tours, has suspended package holidays there.

There have been loud calls in Russia for economic sanctions and for all flights to Turkey to be cancelled, the BBC's Moscow correspondent, Sarah Rainsford, reports.