UPDATE: 5:40 a.m. EST -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday that Russia and Turkey should reduce tensions following the downing of a Russian warplane and focus on fighting the Islamic State group in Syria. Obama’s comments came after meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Paris, where the two have been attending the ongoing climate change conference.
"I want to be very clear: Turkey is a NATO ally. The U.S. supports Turkish rights to defend itself and its airspace and its territory," Obama said, according to Agence France-Presse. "We all have a common enemy and that is ISIL and I want to make sure we focus on that threat," Obama said, adding that any problems should be solved through the “diplomatic language.”
NATO “politically covered” Turkey over the downing of a Russian fighter jet last month by not providing any opinion over the incident, Russia’s envoy to NATO said Tuesday, according to reports. The U.S.-led coalition last Thursday said it stood in solidarity with Turkey, which brought down the Russian warplane after allegedly giving repeated warnings to Moscow over the violation of its airspace.
Alexander Grushko, Moscow’s permanent representative to NATO, said that he provided NATO’s Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow with information that showed Ankara intentionally shot down the Russian Sukhoi Su-24M Fencer jet on Nov. 24. However, Vershbow did not give any evaluation of Turkey’s actions, according to Grushko.
"NATO prefers not to go in detail what was the reason for Turkey’s decision to launch a missile to down a plane which was flying in Syria’s airspace and which posed no threat to Turkey," Grushko said, according to TASS news agency. The envoy added that Turkey’s decision to shoot down the plane went against NATO’s rules.
“NATO, which gave no principled assessment of this illegal act and, as a matter of fact, politically covered for Ankara as the member of the alliance, thus shares responsibility for the incident. Once again, we see that political considerations are getting the upper hand over objectivity and mere common sense,” Grushko reportedly said.
The Kremlin has accused Turkey of deliberately downing the plane and has demanded an apology. However, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday that his country would not apologize to Russia. He also cautioned that such incidents would remain a risk if Russia and NATO continue their air campaigns separately against the Islamic State group in Syria.
Russia, which stepped up its operations in Syria after ISIS claimed responsibility for bringing down a passenger plane late October killing all 224 people aboard, equipped its Su-34 bombers with air-to-air missiles for Syrian air campaign.
“Today [Monday], Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers have made their first sortie equipped not only with high explosive aviation bombs and hollow charge bombs, but also with short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles," said Igor Klimov, a spokesman for the Russian Air Force, according to RT.com. "The planes are equipped with missiles for defensive purposes." He added that the bombers were “capable of hitting air targets within a 60km (37 miles) radius.”