Turkey has shot down a Syrian helicopter raising border tensions, buffered by Russia which has stepped in to prevent a possible UN-sanctioned military attack on Syria in the future.
Turkey scrambled its F-16 fighter jets on Monday to shoot down Syria’s Russian-built Mi-17 helicopter, claiming that it was forced to take the decision after the helicopter intruded two km inside Turkish airspace.
"It (the helicopter) was continuously warned by our air defence but as the violation continued, it fell on Syrian soil at 2.25 p.m. having been hit by missiles from our planes," said Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc in Ankara.
Syria has responded angrily to the shooting, slamming Turkey for deliberately escalating border tensions between the two countries, which are already steeped in hostility because of Ankara’s active and open support to the Opposition that wants to topple the Government of President Bashar Al Assad. The Syrians claim that the chopper was “heading back” after it had mistakenly entered Turkish airspace.
"The hasty response from the Turkish side, especially as the aircraft was on its way back and was not charged with any combat missions, is proof of the true intentions of (Turkish President) Erdogan's government toward Syria, to increase tensions and escalate the situation on the border between the two countries," said Syria's armed forces in a statement reported by the state news agency SANA.
As tensions simmered, Russia took a calibrated step forward to ward-off an internationally supported attack on Syria by making it explicit that the enforcement of the deal, brokered in Geneva by Moscow and Washington, for the elimination of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, would not be covered by the Chapter 7 provisions of the Security Council, which can be invoked to authorise an attack.
After a meeting on Tuesday with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — one of the architects of the Syrian deal — stressed that the resolution, which the Security Council will adopt in the future will not refer to Chapter 7 provisions.
The Russian Foreign Minister clarified that the aim of the document that would be adopted is to affirm the Security Council’s approval of the roadmap of Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament, which will be formalised by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The UN resolution will also specify measures that fall outside the ambit of the OPCW, such as provision of security to the inspectors, who would be on the ground in Syria to oversee the mission.
The timing of the meeting of the two Foreign Ministers was significant as it followed the release of the UN report on the killings of hundreds of people on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21. The document established that chemical weapons were indeed used in the incident, but did not pin any blame on the source of the attack.
However, the United States, Britain and France immediately interpreted the findings of the report as confirmation that the Government of President Assad had carried out the attack — a view that was hotly contested by Moscow. Susan Rice, National Security Adviser of U.S. President Barack Obama, asserted that the report "reinforces our assessment that these attacks were carried out by the Syrian regime, as only they had the capability to mount an attack in this manner."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague was not far behind in citing the findings as “fully consistent” with previously held British position that the Assad Government was responsible for the attack.
But Vitaly Chrukin, the Russian representative at the UN, warned that it would be wrong to draw any hasty conclusions. He pointed out that the report did not present any “bulletproof data or conclusions” on the perpetrators of the strike. “The report is diligent but very technical. It avoids categorical judgments and inferences, and it needs to be studied,” he observed.
Mr. Churkin stressed that the charge that the Opposition was responsible for a false flag attack, which would be blamed on the Syrian Government “cannot be shrugged off” either.