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Russia says jet downing ‘provocation’ as pilot denies warning

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Moscow: Russia today accused Turkey of a “planned provocation” over the downing of a warplane on the Syrian border as a rescued pilot claimed that no warning had been given.

As the diplomatic fallout from yesterday’s incident raged on, Ankara sought to play down tensions and its allies in NATO issued urgent appeals for restraint.

Moscow said Russian and Syrian special forces had rescued one of the two pilots who ejected from the bomber as it plunged to the earth in a fireball but confirmed the second airman and a soldier sent to rescue him died.

In his first interview, rescued pilot Konstantin Murakhtin told Russian state media there had been no warning before his plane was shot down by Turkish fighter jets.

“There was no warning, not by radio exchange nor visually. There was no contact at all,” Murakhtin said at Moscow’s base in Syria, with his back to the cameras.

Turkey insists it gave 10 warnings in the space of five minutes, an account backed up by its NATO ally the United States which spearheads a coalition against Islamic State jihadists in Syria.

The downing has threatened ties between two major rival players in the Syrian war and raised fears it could escalate into a wider geopolitical conflict.

“We have serious doubts about this being an unpremeditated act, it really looks like a planned provocation,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters after speaking to Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu by phone in the first contact between the two over the incident.

“We do not plan to go to war with Turkey, our attitude toward the Turkish people has not changed,” he added, but warned Moscow would “seriously reevaluate” relations with Ankara.

President Vladimir Putin yesterday branded the incident a “stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists”, and told Russians not to to visit Turkey, a key tourist destination.

Turkey, however, has sought to turn down the heat, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisting Ankara was simply defending its border.

“We have no intention to escalate this incident. We are just defending our security and the rights of our brothers,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called Russia “our friend and our neighbour” and said Ankara did not want to further strain ties.

Turkey says the Su-24 bomber violated its airspace 10 times within a five-minute period, despite warnings each time.

Turkey’s ambassador to the UN Halit Cevik said in a letter to the Security Council that two planes were involved.