Update, November 24, 3:00 p.m. EST: Speaking at a press conference from the White House on Tuesday, President Obama responded to the situation by saying Turkey had the right to defend its airspace. But he pressed the two countries to abstain from escalating tensions. While expressing solidarity with Turkey at an emergency meeting, NATO also echoed the president’s call to calm.
A Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian warplane on Tuesday, after Turkey says the Russian aircraft ignored several warnings that it was violating the country’s airspace. The Kremlin denies that its warplane crossed into Turkish airspace.
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The two pilots inside were seen ejecting themselves from the SU-24 plane. Their whereabouts were still being officially determined. A Syrian rebel group claims to have found one of the pilots badly wounded. The group told Reuters the pilot was dead.
In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the incident was a “stab in the back” that would render “very serious consequences” for relations between the two countries. He also accused Turkey of being “accomplices of terrorists.”
“Neither our pilots nor our jet threatened the territory of Turkey,” Putin said before a scheduled meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan. “This is obvious. They are fighting terrorists in the northern areas around Latakia, where militants are located, mainly people who originated in Russia, and they were pursuing their direct duty, to make sure these people do not return to Russia.”
“These are people who are clearly international terrorists.”
A NATO official told CNN that the group has called an emergency meeting for later today to discuss the downing of the Russian aircraft.