Just as tensions between Syria and Turkey are at a record high, Ankara is now at the centre of a crisis with Russia after it intercepted yesterday a Syrian Air plane travelling from Moscow to Damascus, forced it to land in Ankara and searched it because of suspicions it was carrying military equipment. The Russian foreign ministry this morning expressed "concern" and demanded an explanation from the Turkish government saying that Ankaras action placed the security of the 37 passengers crew members, 17 of them Russian, at risk. Damascus has accused Ankara of committing an act of "piracy".
According to Moscow, Turkish authorities violated bilateral conventions "preventing Russian diplomats to meet Russian citizens who were blocked for several hours at the airport" without the possibility to eat.
The decision to inercept the plane, according to the Turkish press, was taken directly by Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan based on US intelligence, according to Milliyet, signalling the presence of weapons on board. Turkish inspectors, according to state broadcaster Trt, found in the plane, which took off for Damascus at midnight, material for military communication systems and elements that could be used to build missiles. Part of the material was seized and is currently under examination.
In Moscow, sources of the Russian agency in charge of military exports denied the presence of military equipment and weapons on board.
"If there had been any need to provide Syria with technical-military equipment or arms, it would have been done in a legal way and not illegally and using a civilian aircraft", the sources said, recalling how technical-military cooperation with Damascus has not been interrupted.
Ankara, which has been close to an armed conflict in Syria for a week after Syrian fire hit a Turkish border town killing five people, responded saying it acted "within national and international laws"; to block the transit of weapons towards Damascus.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davoglu said that Turkey is determined to "control the transfer of weapons to a regime which is carrying out a brutal massacre of its citizens".