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3 Jan, 2016 07:20

‘I did not shoot down that plane’: Turkish PM says order to attack Russian Su-24 wasn’t his

The only Turkish official who appeared to have been bold enough to take responsibility for the downing of the Russian Su-24 bomber, PM Ahmet Davutoglu, has seemingly backtracked on his words. He now says he did not give a direct order to shoot down the jet.

In the days after November 24, when the Turkish F-16 fighter jet launched an unprovoked missile attack on the Russian Su-24 jet bombing terrorist positions in northern Syria, the Turkish prime minister publicly spoke out to justify the attack.

“It was decided that in the event of our airspace being violated, all necessarily measures would be taken, all relevant orders to the armed forces were given by me, personally,” Davutoglu said.

Now, however, in a newly published interview with channel NTV, the Turkish PM appears to be backtracking on his statement, downplaying his personal role in the fatal decision-making that spilled over into a serious rift between Moscow and Ankara.

“I did not give the order to shoot down that plane,” Davutoglu told NTV, claiming it would not have been possible to give the order as the Russian plane allegedly spent 17 seconds in Turkish airspace. “The prime minister issues instructions to enact threat response guidelines. These guidelines are not new and they are applied without my orders.”

Davutoglu instead pointed toward the Turkish Air Force, saying that days prior to the incident, Turkey's General Staff enabled the Air Force command with authority to shoot down planes breaching the country’s airspace.

Moscow and the surviving Su-24 pilot have rejected the idea that the jet flew over Turkey at any moment of the mission and insist the crew did not receive any warning prior to being hit. The Turks did not use the hotline that had been set up between the Russian and the Turkish militaries either. Crew commander Oleg Peshkov was killed while parachuting by Turkmen rebel fire from the ground, while another Russian marine died during the rescue operation. Moscow has described the attack on the Russian jet as a “pre-planned action.”

This is not the first time the responsibility for downing of the Su-24 is being shifted on the Turkish Air Force. In mid-December, Twitter accounts believed to be linked to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) published posts laying the blame on Air Force Commander Abidin Unal.

The latest version voiced by pro-government media pointed the finger at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s harshest critic and chief nemesis, influential US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. According to the theory put forward by Turkey’s pro-Erdogan Star newspaper, Gulen agents in the Turkish Air Force contributed to downing the Su-24 to spark a political crisis between Ankara and Moscow.

While Erdogan has been refusing to apologize for the incident to Moscow, Ankara may now be trying to “find a way out” of the situation, believes Ronald Suni, professor of history at the University of Michigan.

Suni, who said the latest statement by Davutoglu was “confusing,” told RT it could nevertheless point to Ankara’s attempts to “massage the message,” and make the official stance softer, before some “significant move” is made.

“Clearly, the Turks made a horrendous mistake: they can try to justify it in various ways, but shooting down a plane that had entered their territory for 17 seconds – this is uncalled for. And they are paying a heavy price for this,” Suni said.