Moscow: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered state-of-the art air defense missile systems to be deployed at a Russian air base in Syria following the downing of one of its warplanes by Turkey, a move that raised the threat of a military confrontation between the NATO member and Moscow.
The S-400 missile systems will be sent to the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, located about 50 kilometres south of the border with Turkey. The systems are capable of targeting Turkish jets with deadly precision. If Russia shot down a Turkish plane, NATO would be required to intervene.
Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber yesterday, saying it crossed into its airspace from Syria despite repeated warnings. One of its two pilots was killed by militants after bailing out, while his crewmate was rescued by Syrian army commandos and delivered in good condition to the Russian base early today.
Putin said the Russian plane remained in Syria's skies when it was shot down. He described Turkey's action as a "crime" and a "stab in the back", warning of serious consequences.
He said that the Russian Foreign Ministry's warning to Russians not to visit Turkey was needed "because we can't exclude some other incidents following what happened yesterday and our citizens in Turkey could be in significant danger".
Today, the Russian leader ordered the military to deploy the S-400s to Hemeimeem and took other measures that "should be sufficient to ensure flight safety".
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said today that the Russian missile cruiser Moskva already has moved closer to shore to protect the Russian aircraft flying missions near Syria's border with Turkey with its long-range Fort air defence system.
"It will be ready to destroy any aerial target posing a potential danger to our aircraft," he said at a meeting with military officials.
Shoigu also said that from now on all Russian bombers will be escorted by fighters on their combat missions in Syria. He said that his ministry has severed all contacts with the Turkish military.