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MIDEAST >Turkey, Russia in deal over Syrian airspace

Uğur Ergan - ANKARA

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Turkey and Russia have been discussing the creation of a protocol to coordinate the flights of their warplanes over Syrian airspace in a bid to prevent unwanted incidents like the downing of a Russian jet by Turkish Air Forces on Nov. 24, 2015, a senior Turkish military source has said.

While drafting the protocol, the two sides also agreed on a “gentleman’s agreement” to prevent the two sides’ warplanes from entering into areas where the other side is conducting military operations. 

The decision to work to coordinate military flights over Syria was taken during a meeting of the respective Russian and Turkish chiefs of General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov and Gen. Hulusi Akar, on Sept. 15 in Ankara. 

The two top soldiers approved the establishment of a hotline between the two air forces in a bid to prevent accidents or unwanted incidents. 

“Work to accomplish the protocol continues at the highest level,” the senior military source told daily Hürriyet on the condition of anonymity on Sept. 22. If signed, the protocol will mark an important step in developing the military-to-military relationship and coordination between Turkey and Russia in the Syrian theater. 

The need to make a protocol to coordinate flights in Syria with Russia became urgent after the Turkish army launched a massive cross-border operation into its southern neighbor on Aug. 24 in a bid to remove the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from its border.  

“We have carried out 97 sorties against ISIL positions as part of the Operation Euphrates Shield,” the source said. 


Gentleman’s agreement in place 

According to the military source, while talks continue for an official protocol, the two sides have agreed verbally on what the source called a “gentleman’s agreement.” Accordingly, the Turkish military has provided the Russian side the coordinates of the areas in which it operates and its warplanes fly over. In return, Russian warplanes will work to steer clear of these areas. 

“As Turkey, we know which areas we will conduct air operations over. Our warplanes scramble when there is a need to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on the ground,” the source said. “Our communication with Russia functions perfectly.” 


Russia careful, too 

According to the same source, the Russian side is also acting very carefully to avoid violating Turkish airspace and regularly providing information about its flights near Turkey, particularly Hatay province. 

The closest flight of Russian warplanes to Turkish airspace was four kilometers around Hatay province, the source said, adding that the Turkish military had already been informed about the incident.

Turkish warplanes downed a Russian warplane on Nov. 24, 2015, due to an alleged airspace violation which caused a severe diplomatic crisis between the two countries. A normalization process was started after Turkey expressed regret over the incident.

September/23/2016

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