Turks Claim Russian Arms Found On Detained Syrian Jetliner

Turkey’s Prime Minister announced that Russian arms destined for the Syrian Army were found on a Moscow to Damscus flight that had been forced to land in Ankara:

MOSCOW — Escalating a confrontation with Russia, Turkey’s prime minister said Thursday that Russian military equipment and ammunition bound for Syria’s Defense Ministry had been confiscated from a Syrian civilian jetliner on a Moscow-to-Damascus flight, which was forced to land in Ankara on suspicion of illicitly carrying war material.

The accusation by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which directly contradicted Russian denials, also further inflamed Turkey’s already difficult relationship with Syria, where a 19-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has expanded into a civil war that is threatening the stability of the Middle East.

Mr. Erdogan’s accusation, reported by Turkey’s semiofficial Anatolian News Agency, came only hours after the Kremlin said no military cargo had been aboard the plane and accused the Turks of illegally grounding and searching it. The Turks, saying they had acted on an intelligence tip, forced the Air Syria flight with 35 passengers aboard to land at an Ankara airport on Wednesday.

“From Russia, an institution equivalent to our Machinery and Chemical Industry has sent military tools, equipment and ammunition to the Syrian Defense Ministry,” Mr. Erdogan was quoted as saying about the plane inspection. He was drawing a comparison to Turkey’s Machinery and Chemical Industry Institution, or MKEK, a leading provider of defense equipment to the Turkish military.

“Upon the intelligence received, research there was conducted and it was unfortunately seen that there was such equipment inside,” Mr. Erdogan said.

He did not further specify what precisely had been found.

Mr. Erdogan also said that an upcoming visit to Turkey by Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, had been postponed. He said the postponement had no connection with the forced grounding of the plane.

Earlier, Syria reacted for the first time to the disrupted flight of the Syria Air jetliner, which it said had been prevented from resuming its journey for eight hours. Syrian officials quoted by SANA, the official news agency, called the Turkish action illegal, accused the Turks of mistreating the crew and frightening the passengers, and said Syria would protest the incident to international aviation authorities.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the plane had been detained on suspicion of harboring weapons and said a number of unspecified cargo items “that infringed on international regulations” had been confiscated. But Mr. Erdogan’s statement was the most detailed yet about what the Turks claimed to have found.

He spoke after Moscow expressed dismay at the Turkish action and denied that there were weapons or other military supplies aboard.

“I think that tension will now develop in the relationship between Russia and Turkey,” a Russian Foreign Ministry official said, accusing Turkish officials of breaking the law by searching the Syrian plane on the ground.

Moscow’s complaints were quickly rejected by Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, which summoned the Russian ambassador and said the Turks had acted properly and had treated the passengers responsibly, thel Anatolian News Agency reported.

Russia and Turkey are already at odds over the Syrian crisis, with Ankara joining Western and many Arab nations in support of insurgents seeking to overthrow Mr. Assad, while Moscow has consistently shielded Mr. Assad, its main regional ally.

At the very least, this may make it even less likely that Russia will be willing to participate in Western efforts to oust Bashar Assad and, in the context of the still brewing confrontation between Syria and the Turks, it only serves to make a bad situation even worse. I do have a wonder about Turkey’s actions here, though. Forcing a passenger jet to land and detaining the passengers, many of the Russian nationals, while searching the plane is not exactly something you see happen every day and it’s only likely to increase tensions between Turkey and Russia at this point.  On some level, though, this can’t really be a surprise to anyone. Russia’s support for the Assad regime has been open and blatant since the beginning of the uprising, and there have been other reports of Russian arms arriving in Syria via the Russian Naval Base in northwestern Syria. This just confirms all those suspicions.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Quick Takes, World Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. legion says:

    also further inflamed Turkey’s already difficult relationship with Syria

    Pardon my insensitivity, but f*ck Turkey’s relationship with Syria. Syria is no longer a functioning country; it’s in full-on civil war mode, and that’s not going to change until Assad is out or he gets enough firepower to genocide his own people. What I’m concerned about now is Turkey’s (and by extension, NATO’s) relationship with _Russia_. Depending on what exactly they were trying to get into Syria, this could have some serious repercussions throughout Europe.

    And I’m _really_ curious about the “intel tip” that led the Turks to do this – they took a huge risk forcing a civilian liner down like this & I don’t think they would have done this without very high confidence in what they’d find. That implies to me a source very deep in Russia’s efforts to support Assad…

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Syria is rapidly turning into a very dangerous multidimensional war. Sunni VS Shia – Sunni Arab Countries VS Iran and now Turkey/ NATO VS Russia. Not a good thing – we should be very worried!

  3. Geek, Esq. says:

    Turkey vs Russia hasn’t been a major conflict since the days of the Ottoman Empire and the Tsars.

    Turkey’s angle here is Kurdistan. What’s not getting as much attention is that Turkey is going after the Kurds on the other side of its border with Iraq.

    If Syria implodes, look for the Turks to move into the Kurdish regions of Syria to stomp on the PKK et al.

  4. Mark says:

    Erdogan is just blowing smoke. If they had actually found weapons and ammunition – which is proportionally very heavy and therefore it’s most unlikely any significant quantities of either would be on a passenger flight also carrying passengers and baggage – there would be pictures and accusations out to here. Western countries are bent on overthrowing Assad to satisfy their own foreign policy objectives, and couldn’t give a tin weasel how many Syrians he kills, if he were actually “genociding his own people”, which he is not. Western countries cosy up to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain although they are two of the most repressive and backward regimes on earth, so they obviously do not care anything about bringing sweet freedom and democracy to the Syrian people. They said the same of Libya, for those of you whose memories are still functioning, and then promptly put an al Qaeda government in charge and left. They’ll do the same in Syria, given free rein. Hopefully Erdogan’s electorate will throw him out first.

  5. CB says:

    @Mark:

    I think youre wrong on almost every specific, yet somehow I still mostly agree with you. How does that work?

  6. Tillman says:

    And I’m _really_ curious about the “intel tip” that led the Turks to do this – they took a huge risk forcing a civilian liner down like this & I don’t think they would have done this without very high confidence in what they’d find. That implies to me a source very deep in Russia’s efforts to support Assad…

    Anyone betting on American for this, or are we too incompetent?

  7. Michael says:

    @Mark:

    If they had actually found weapons and ammunition – which is proportionally very heavy and therefore it’s most unlikely any significant quantities of either would be on a passenger flight also carrying passengers and baggage

    The A320 can carry 150 passengers and has a maximum takeoff weight of 200k pounds. This flight had 35 passengers. There was certainly enough room for significant quantities of anti-personnel weaponry.

  8. Ken Macaulay says:

    If the Russians wanted to ship weapons to Syria, they’d just use a dedicated military transport & fly it over Iran & Iraq. Using a passenger plane is not even slightly credible.

    So far the Turks have come out with “cargo believed to be missile parts were seized. Other reports stated that military communications devices were seized. “We received information that the plane’s cargo did not comply with rules of civil aviation,” said Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister.
    There was information that it might be carrying “certain equipment in breach of civil aviation rules”, …”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9600875/No-Russian-weapons-on-board-Syrian-plane-detained-in-Turkey.html

    In other words, complete garbage…

    Most likely this is a response to Putin cancelling his visit where Erdogan & Davutoglu were going to try & pressure him into dropping support of Syria, so instead they’ve come up with this.