NATO held an emergency meeting Tuesday after Turkey admitted to shooting down a Russian fighter jet at the Syrian border after it violated its airspace.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said that “we stand in solidarity with Turkey” in the meeting called at the request of Turkey.
“I have previously expressed my concerns about the implications of the military actions of the Russian Federation close to NATO borders,” Stoltenberg said. “This highlights the importance of having and respecting arrangements … in the future.”
Stoltenberg went on to “call for calm and de-escalation.”
“Diplomacy and de-escalation are important to solve this situation,” he said, adding in response to a question that information from other NATO allies was consistent with information provided by Turkey regarding the incident.
Turkey said the Russian plane violated Turkish airspace and repeatedly ignored its warnings to leave. Moscow, however, said the plane was inside Syria when it was shot down.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Turkey’s decision to down a Russian warplane near the Syria border a “stab in the back.”
A Turkish military statement said the plane entered Turkish airspace over the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province.
“On Nov. 24, 2015 at around 09.20 a.m, a plane whose nationality is not known violated the Turkish airspace despite several warnings (10 times within five minutes) in the area of Yayladagi, Hatary,” the military said before the plane’s nationality was confirmed.
“Two F-16 planes on aerial patrol duty in the area intervened against the plane in question in accordance with the rules of engagement at 09.24 a.m.”
It said the plane was warned 10 times within the space of 5 minutes.
A U.S. military spokesman said the U.S. heard communication between Turkish and Russian pilots before Turkey shot down the Russian plane.
Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday that the U.S. military was “able to hear everything that was going on.”
Asked whether he could confirm that Turkish pilots issued 10 verbal warnings to the Russian pilots and that the Russians did not respond, Warren said, “Yes.”
Both pilots in the plane ejected but their fate is unclear. A group of Turkmen claimed to have shot at them as they floated toward the ground, saying they were found dead. Video purporting to show one of the pilots had men chanting allahu akbar, or “God is great.”
Reuters, however, reported a Turkish official saying the pilots were believed to be alive.
“Our units, who received the information that the two pilots were alive, are working to get them from opposition rebels safely,” the official said, according to the news outlet.
Syrian rebels and activists also claimed to have targeted and destroyed a Russian-made helicopter operated by the Syrian army near the area where a Russian warplane was downed by Turkey.
A rebel spokesman, Zakaria al-Ahmad, said the chopper was flying low over mountains in Latakia province, allegedly searching for the missing Russian pilots on Tuesday.
Al-Ahmad said the rebels fired a Tao missile that destroyed the helicopter after it landed and its pilots had left the aircraft.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the chopper made an emergency landing in the area and its pilots ejected before the aircraft was hit. It was not clear why it made an emergency landing.
During a press conference Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said “Turkey, like every country, has a right to defend its territory and its airspace.”
Obama said this situation highlights why it is “important for us right now to make sure both the Russians and the Turks are talking to each other.”
Like Stoltenberg, Obama said the incident “points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are opterationg very close to a Turkish border and they are going after moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but several other countries.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.