The incident with the forced landing in Ankara of an airliner that was flying from Moscow to Damascus can seriously aggravate Russian-Turkish relations. The Turkish authorities have accused Russia of supplying ammunition to Damascus. Meanwhile, Turkey has arrested the cargo found on the plane. And Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) intends to conduct a probe into the fact of leak of information about the cargo delivery to Syria.
According to the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily, the reason for the detention of the plane of Syrian Air was “a non civilian cargo” information about which was obtained by Turkish secret services. Immediately after landing the airliner with 35 passengers on board was moved away from the airfield to a parking stand and cordoned off. After a search that lasted for more than five hours the Turkish special force agents found in the plane’s baggage section 12 large sealed containers with military equipment. According to unofficial information, they found on board telecommunications devices, including electronic components and parts for military radio stations, as well as elements of missile munitions. After that the plane was released.
On Thursday evening Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced: the Syrian plane was carrying ammunition from Moscow to Damascus, the Kommersant daily writes. The publication’s sources close to Russia’s military-technical cooperation service have categorically denied the presence of weapons aboard. “There was no our cargo aboard,” representative of the Rosoboronexport arms exporting company Vyacheslav Davidenko confirmed, adding that he has no information about the cargo content and ownership. The Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation declined to comment.
According to the newspaper, on board the Airbus A-320 airliner there were 12 boxes with technical elements for the aerial defence radar stations in service with the Syrian army, as well as technological documentation to them. According to Kommersant sources, the cargo required no special registration or examination, as it posed no threat either for the crewmembers or the plane. “It’s not weaponry. If a person has with him on the plane a switched off receiver, can it pose a threat to the plane or people?” asks one of the sources. “We’ve not violated any international laws,” another source of the newspaper claims.
“The plane’s interception is first of all an anti-Syrian gesture of Turkey, although this certainly will not make its relations with Russia better,” head of the analytical department of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis Alexander Khramchikhin said. “Turkish- Syrian relations could not be worse – they are on the verge of war.”
Meanwhile, the Russian authorities do not intend to leave the incident without consequences. According to the publication, the FSB may soon launch an agency check in Russia’s concerned agencies over the fact of leaking information about the cargo dispatch to Syria. “The Turkish Air Force sent two F-16 fighters to intercept the plane because they knew that the cargo would be transported in all likelihood,” a source of the newspaper in the RF state bodies said. “They would not risk it without knowing for sure.”
The Novye Izvestia newspaper recalls that the plane incident took place amid an unprecedented deterioration of relations between Turkey and Syria. Over the past week, there have been more than a dozen mutual shelling attacks on the border of the two states. In essence, the two countries are on the verge of war. The crisis stems from the fact that Turkey supports the Syrian armed opposition, by which official Damascus is extremely annoyed. The aggravation of the situation coincided with the advance of government troops on the positions of the opposition Syrian Free Army in the north.
Moscow demanded explanations from Ankara about the incident, the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper writes. The Russian Foreign Ministry was indignant at the fact that 17 Russians who were on board the plane were kept without food for eight hours. Syrian Air for its part intends to lodge a complaint about the conduct of the Turkish side with the F·d·ration A·ronautique Internationale (FAI).
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily writes that against the background of the incident with the detention by Turkey of the Syrian plane flying from Moscow, the postponement of RF President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Turkey, which was scheduled for October 14-15, looks logical. “The arrival of Putin in Turkey could be wrongly interpreted both in Damascus and Ankara,” the publication quotes editor-in-chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal Fyodor Lukyanov. “Until recently it seemed that the Syrian issue would not affect the contacts between Russia and Turkey. However, Ankara is so deep in the Syrian conflict that it could not but affect its relations with Moscow.”