MOSCOW, A Turkish military pilot who shot down a Russian fighter jet in November decided on his own to open fire on the plane, Turkey’s deputy prime minister said Tuesday.
The official, Mehmet Simsek, said the pilot’s decision to shoot the jet, which was returning from an anti-terror mission in Syria, was supported by a recent change in Turkey’s military rules.
“The response rules were changed because Syrian planes were downing Turkey’s planes,” Simsek said. “According to the modified rules, a decision on whether or not to shoot down a plane was delegated to pilots.”
“The decision was taken personally by the pilot.” The Russian Su-24 attack fighter was shot down on Nov. 24 near Turkey’s border with Syria. Turkey said the Russian plane violated its airspace.
Russian officials, though, claim the bomber was shot down over Syria. Both pilots ejected from the stricken aircraft but one was killed by gunfire from troops on the ground. The other was taken to the Hmeimim airbase in Syria.
Despite the shootdown, Simsek sought to underscore Tuesday that the Turkish government has no animosity toward Moscow, which responded with punitive measures against Ankara after the incident.
“Turkey has no hostile feelings to Russia, and will never have,” he said. Russia demanded an apology from Turkey, which was delivered last month by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Moscow said in the letter Erdogan expressed interest in moving past the shootdown to resume normal diplomatic relations between the two governments.