Russia has dismissed an Arab media report accusing it of supporting Syria in downing a Turkish warplane — mirroring the emergence of fresh tensions between the external supporters of the Syrian government and the armed opposition groups.
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement slammed as “utter nonsense” a report in the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel, which cited possession of “highly classified documents” to fortify its claim that Russia was involved in engineering the July crash in Syrian waters of the Turkish fighter jet. The channel blamed Moscow of providing “guidance” in downing the plane, and “eliminating” two pilots after the crash.
In its riposte, Moscow said it was “ridiculous even to comment on this nonsense, but, unfortunately, we have to”. It added: “These far-from-harmless fantasies are based on ‘intelligence databases,’ obtained by Al Arabiya from open sources, including the official website of the RIA Novosti news agency.” “The authors of this forgery did not even bother to remove the respective logo from the allegedly ‘secret document’.”
A livid Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich accused a section of the Arab media of peddling “unscrupulous and outright lies” about the situation in Syria. “Of course, not claiming influence on the editorial policy of these media, we would like to advise the authors of such anti-Russian fantasies … to think more not only about moral principles, but also about their professional viability,” the statement observed.
On its part, Al Arabiya has insisted that it had obtained the “highly-classified Syrian security documents” with the help of the Syrian opposition.
Al Arabiya’s reportage, if proven can be highly damaging as it accuses the Russians and the Syrian government of conniving to kill the plane’s two pilots, who had, in its view, survived the crash.
“Two Turkish pilots were captured by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence after their jet was shot down in coordination with the Russian naval base in Tartus,” the channel claimed, basing its allegations on one of the official documents. Since the Soviet days, the Russians have been operating from Tartus, a Syrian port on the Mediterranean.
In Moscow, there were fears that the high-pitched propaganda offensive could be used to justify NATO’s direct involvement in Syria. In a separate statement, the Russians urged NATO not to find pretexts for mounting direct operations in Syria. “In our contacts with NATO partners... we call upon them not to search for pretexts to carry out a military scenario or initiatives like humanitarian corridors and buffer zones,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.
On Monday the tit-for-tat round of recriminations turned uglier when Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, during his speech at the U.N. General Assembly, accused Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, France, Libya and the United States of involvement in infiltrating foreign extremists into Syria. “Those states either turn a blind eye to the activities of terrorist groups crossing their borders, or provide active material and logistical support from their territory for armed terrorist groups.” He also appealed to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to return home so that they no longer have to put with the “inhuman conditions” that had been foisted on them in camps run by countries that were plotting against Damascus.