ROME, November 26. /TASS/. Air strikes in Syria are not as important as political settlement and Russia should be involved in this process, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a popular evening talks show Porta a Porta on the Rai Uno television channel on Wednesday.
"Italy doesn’t think air strikes in Syria are important from the strategic point of view. Much more important today is political settlement and Russia’s participation in this process," he said.
The Italian top diplomat expressed worry that the incident with the Russian Su-24M bomber downed by the Turkish military could adversely tell on joint anti-Islamic State efforts and mar the progressive results reached at the two Vienna meetings on Syria, when all parties interested in the settlement of the Syrian crisis had met at one negotiating table.
"What happened [with the Russian warplane] looks like a political phantasmagoria, with Turkey, a NATO member state downing a Russian plane. It is vital today to prevent possible escalation," he said.
The Russian Su-24M all-weather bomber (NATO reporting name: Fencer) was on anti-terrorism mission in Syria on Tuesday morning, when it was shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet. Ankara claims it downed the Russian warplane after it had violated Turkey’s airspace, while the Russian Defense Ministry says the bomber was in the airspace over Syria at the time of the attack.
Both pilots of the downed warplane ejected safely after they were hit by an air-to-air missile, but the commander was killed in a militants’ gunfire from the ground as he was parachuting.
Russia’s two Mi-8 helicopters (NATO reporting name: Hip) were engaged in the pilots’ search and rescue operation, which reportedly lasted for some 12 hours.
One of the helicopters dispatched for the rescue mission came under fire and was subsequently forced to an emergency landing after sustaining damages.
One Russian contract serviceman, a marine, was killed during the emergency landing. The rest of the servicemen on board of the helicopter were safely evacuated. The downed Mi-8 helicopter was lately destroyed by mortar fire from the territory under control of the militants.
Following the incident with the downing of the Su-24M bomber on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the attack on the combat aircraft would entail "serious consequences" for the Russian-Turkish relations. He said Turkey’ attack on the Russian plane, which was on the anti-terrorism mission in Syria and posed no threat to Turkey, was "a stab in the back" of Russia.
Russia’s aerospace forces launched pinpoint strikes against the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra targets in Syria on September 30 after the Federation Council upper parliament house unanimously approved President Vladimir Putin’s request for the use of the armed forces against terrorists in Syria. The Russian air group in Syria comprises more than 50 warplanes and helicopters, including Su-34 and Su-24M bombers, Su-25 attack aircraft, Su-30SM fighters and Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters. Air strikes are delivered at military hardware, communications centers, transport vehicles, munitions depots and other terrorist infrastructure facilities. The military operation is conducted at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Russia has repeatedly said it does not plan to take part in any ground operations in Syria.