Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Tulay Karadeniz and Maria Kiselyova

ANKARA/MOSCOW (Reuters) — Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday after repeated warnings over air space violations, but Moscow said it could prove the jet had not left Syrian air space.

It was the first time a NATO member’s armed forces have downed a Russian or Soviet military aircraft since the 1950s and Russian and Turkish assets fell on fears of an escalation between the former Cold War enemies.

A Kremlin spokesman said it was a “very serious incident” but that it was too early to draw conclusions.

Footage from private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV showed the warplane going down in flames in a woodland area, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it. The plane went down in area known by Turks as “Turkmen Mountain”, it said.

Separate footage from Turkey’s Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed. A Syrian rebel group sent a video to Reuters that appeared to show one of the pilots immobile and badly wounded on the ground and an official from the group said he was dead.

Russia’s defense ministry said one of its Su-24 fighter jets had been downed in Syria and that, according to preliminary information, the pilots were able to eject. It said the aircraft had been over Syria for the duration of its flight.

The Turkish military said the aircraft had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish airspace. Officials said a second plane had also approached the border and been warned.

“The data we have is very clear. There were two planes approaching our border, we warned them as they were getting too close,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters.

“We warned them to avoid entering Turkish airspace before they did, and we warned them many times. Our findings show clearly that Turkish airspace was violated multiple times. And they violated it knowingly,” the official said.

A second official said the incident was not an action against any specific country but a move to defend Turkey’s sovereign territory within its rules of engagement.

SECOND PILOT

Russia’s decision to launch separate air strikes in Syria mean Russian and NATO planes have been flying combat missions in the same air space for the first time since World War Two, targeting various insurgent groups close to Turkish borders.

The downing of the jet appeared to scupper hopes of a rapprochement between Russia and the West in the wake of the Islamic State attacks in Paris, which led to calls for a united front against the radical jihadist group in Syria.

Russia’s main stock index fell more than two percent, while Turkish stocks fell 1.3 percent. Both the rouble and lira were weaker.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was briefed by the head of the military, while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu ordered consultations with NATO, the United Nations and related countries, their respective offices said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the warplane crashed in a mountainous area in the northern countryside of Latakia province, where there had been aerial bombardment earlier and where pro-government forces have been battling insurgents on the ground.

“A Russian pilot,” a voice is heard saying in the video sent to Reuters as men gather around the man on the ground. “God is great,” is also heard.

The rebel group that sent the video operates in the northwestern area of Syria, where groups including the Free Syrian Army are active but Islamic State, which has beheaded captives in the past, has no known presence.

The official from the group, who declined to be named for security reasons, did not mention the second Russian pilot.

Broadcaster CNN Turk earlier reported that one of the pilots was in the hands of Turkmen forces in Syria who were looking for the other one, citing local sources. Russian military helicopters were also searching for the pilots, Turkey’s Dogan news agency said.

Both Russia and its ally, Syria’s government, have carried out strikes in the area. A Syrian military source said the reported downing was being investigated.

Turkey called this week for a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss attacks on Turkmens in neighboring Syria, and last week Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the bombing of their villages.

Ankara has traditionally expressed solidarity with Syrian Turkmens, who are Syrians of Turkish descent.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to visit Turkey on Wednesday to discuss Syria, in a trip arranged before this incident. Erdogan is meanwhile expected to visit Russia for talks with Putin in late December.

About 1,700 people have fled the mountainous Syrian area near to the Turkish border as a result of fighting in the last three days, a Turkish official said on Monday. Russian jets have bombed the area in support of ground operations by Syrian government forces.

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler, Melih Aslan and Asli Kandemir in Istanbul, Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Maria Kiselyova and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Tom Perry and Sylvia Westall in Beirut; Writing by Nick Tattersall and David Dolan; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Philippa Fletcher)

Photo: A combination picture taken from video shows a war plane crashing in flames in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Turkish-Syrian border November 24, 2015. REUTERS/Reuters TV/Haberturk

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.