A Brief History Of: Turkey’s Air Wars Over Syria

Turkey's downing of a Russian plane over the Turkish-Syrian border is the latest in a string of escalations since the conflict in Syria began

Nov 24, 2015 at 1:04 PM ET

An altercation in the sky has global consequences, after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet it said had breached its air space. Two Russian pilots are dead and Russian president Vladimir Putin has angrily denounced the incident as a “stab in the back” by “accomplices of terrorists.” Turkey insisted it was acting on its rules of military engagement, and that the Russian jet was warned ten times before it was hit. The Russian ministry of defense said it never left Syrian airspace.

The incident marks the first time a Russian plane was downed in Syria since the Kremlin began bombing both anti-government rebel groups and ISIS targets there in September. It is also the first time since the 1950s that a NATO member country shot down a Russian plane.

When the conflict in Syria broke out in 2011 Turkey stated it wanted Bashar al-Assad removed from power and set up a military base near its border with Syria to aid rebels seeking his ouster. Turkey is the only NATO country that shares a border with ISIS and has had to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees coming through its border to escape both Assad and the Islamic State.

The intervention of Russia in the conflict has only exacerbated the crisis, with its air force regularly flying over areas Turkey has sensitive strategic interests. In early October, Russian warplanes flew into Turkish airspace, prompting U.S. and NATO officials to issue harsh warnings about the risk of escalation in Syria. NATO described the incident as “extremely dangerous” and “unacceptable.