Uğur Ergan - ANKARA
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.