September 23, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7681

Russia's Reactions To The Russian Plane Crash In The Mediterranean

September 23, 2018
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7681

What Happened

On September 17, a Russian Ilyushin-20 was shot down with 15 servicemen aboard over the Mediterranean. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, radio contact was lost with the Ilyushin-20 plane, 35 kilometers away from Syria’s shore, as the plane was returning to the Khmeimim air base.[1]

The Russian Defense Ministry's View Of What Happened: It Was An Intentional Provocation

The Russian Defense Ministry later said that the Ilyushin-20 (IL-20) was shot down by the Syrian air defense. The Russian Defense Ministry originally charged that Israeli F-16s, which were bombing targets in Latakia, had used the Ilyushin-20 as a cover, thus making it vulnerable to the Syrian S-200 air defense system.

Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov stated: "By using the Russian plane as cover the Israeli air pilots made it vulnerable to Syrian air defense fire. As a result, the Ilyushin-20, its reflective surface being far greater than that of the F-16, was downed by a missile launched with the S-200 system."

Konashenkov added that four Israeli Air Force's F-16s carried out a strike with guided air missiles against Syrian facilities in Latakia at about 22:00 on September 17. He stated that the Israeli pilots approached the target from the Mediterranean at a low altitude and intentionally created a threatening situation for ships and aircraft in the area.

Konashenkov added: "The bombing raid was near the French frigate Auvergne and in close proximity to the Ilyushin-20 plane from Russia’s aerospace force that was about to land… [The Israeli pilots] could not but see the Russian plane, which was approaching the runway from an altitude of five kilometers. Nevertheless they deliberately staged this provocation."

Konashenkov also stated: "A hotline warning was received less than one minute before the strike, which left no chance for getting the Russian plane to safety."[2] After the attack, the Syrian air defense troops responded and as a consequence the Ilyushin-20 was shot down.

Konashenkov also threatened that Russia reserve "the right to take adequate tit-for-tat steps."[3]

Putin's View Of What Happened: The Plane Crash Was Caused By Tragic Circumstances

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin disagreed with the Russian Defense Ministry.

During a press conference with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, Putin said that the plane crash was caused by a "chain of tragic circumstances".

Putin stated:

"When people die, especially in such unfortunate circumstances, it is always a tragedy, a tragedy for all of us, for the nation and for the families of our people who lost their lives.

"First of all, I would like to express condolences to the families of the dead.

"As for your comparison with the downing of our plane by a Turkish fighter, this was a different situation. The Turkish fighter deliberately shot down our aircraft.

"In this case, it is more a chain of tragic circumstances because an Israeli fighter did not down our aircraft. It goes without saying that we must get to the bottom of this. Our attitude towards this tragedy is set forth in a statement by our Defense Ministry, and has been fully coordinated with me.

"As for reciprocal action, this will be primarily aimed at ensuring additional security for our military and our facilities in the Syrian Arab Republic. These steps will be seen by everyone."[4]

Putin-Netanyahu Phone Conversation

On September 18, Putin had a phone conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the initiative of the Israeli side. Netanyahu expressed his condolences and promised to provide detailed information on the activities of the Israeli Air Force over Syria on that day.

According to the Israeli's Prime Minister Office (PMO), "Netanyahu noted the importance of continued security coordination between Israel and Russia, which has succeeded in preventing many losses on both sides in the past three years."

The Israeli PMO website further added: "Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Israel was determined to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria as well as the attempts by Iran – which calls for the destruction of Israel – to transfer to Hezbollah lethal weapons for use against Israel."

As reported by the Kremlin website, Putin answered that operations of this nature by the Israeli Air Force are in violation of Syria's sovereignty. The Kremlin reported that Putin further noted: "Russian-Israeli agreements on preventing dangerous incidents had not been observed either, and that resulted in the Russian aircraft coming under Syrian air defense fire. The Russian President called on the Israeli side to prevent such incidents in the future.[5]

Shoigu-Lieberman Phone Call

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman had a phone call conversation, discussing the causes of the plane crash. Shoigu blamed Israel for what happened.

Shoigu stated:

"The responsibility for the downing of the Russian aircraft and the death of its crew lies solely with Israel. The Russian Defense Ministry used various communication channels on numerous occasions to urge Israel to refrain from conducting airstrikes in Syria, which threaten the security of Russian military personnel…The Israeli Defense Ministry’s actions are not in the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership so we reserve the right to take retaliatory steps."[6]

Assad's Condolences: The Incident Was A Result Of Israeli Rampage

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent condolences to Putin. In his message, Assad stated: "On behalf of the Syrian people and by my name, we express our deep condolence over the fall of the Russian jet on the Mediterranean, causing the martyrdom of the Russian heroes who were doing their noble duties along with their colleagues of the Russian military forces in the fight against terrorism in Syria."

He then added: "The regrettable incident was a result of the Israeli usual rampage which always uses the dirtiest means to achieve its low purposes and carry out its aggression in our region. We are confident that such painful acts would not affect you and us to continue fighting terrorism."[7]

MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: The Israeli Pilots Lacked Professionalism, To Say The Least

During her weekly briefing, Russian MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said: "As you know, an Ilyushin Il-20 aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces was shot down off the Syrian coast late in the evening on September 17 while it was on duty patrolling that part of the Mediterranean Sea. Russian military personnel were killed…

"Russian President Vladimir Putin has given an exhaustive assessment of this tragic accident. The Russian Defense Ministry commented on the events that occurred that night many times and at different levels. Soon more information is expected to be provided – it will be made public – that will give answers to the questions that are arising in connection with this tragedy, in particular regarding the involvement of Israeli military pilots in the accident.

"We maintain strong historical ties with Israel. At all stages of the establishment of Israel as a state our country invariably spoke in favor of developing and expanding mutually beneficial and friendly relations between our two countries and expected this Middle East country to fit in with the regional environment, turning into a factor of stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

"It is clear that the September 17 tragedy will require that Israel conduct an additional investigation and provide an explanation. I believe the explanation will be given soon. In my view, the Israeli pilots, whose actions created a threat to the Russian aircraft, leading to it being shot down – information from our military experts testifies to this – lacked professionalism, to say the least. It is a shame to hide behind the backs of those who ensure safety, including yours, and, while performing their duty, cannot turn aside from a bullet intended for you."[8]

Senator Bondarev: Israel Showed Cynicism, Israel-Russia Diplomatic Relations Will Be Impacted

Senator Viktor Bondarev, general (ret), former RUAF chief of staff, and Head of the Federation Council Defense Committee, said:

"The Israeli Air Force actions represent the height of irresponsibility and cynicism…

"Definitely, it's hardly likely that we'll get to a direct military conflict with Israel, but such a cynical act will have a clear impact on our diplomatic relations and cooperation with this country and not in the most positive fashion."

The senator also said that it's hypocritical to say that Israel has "set up" the Russian plane for the Syrian fire in a non-deliberate manner:" Countries, which are part of the US coalition, Israel included, are trying to sow discord in our friendly partnership relations with Syria."

Bondarev also stated that Russia has helped Syria to win a war on terror and strengthened its positions in the region following, thus "the US and their followers, who are dissatisfied with that, are trying to pit us against Syria and unravel and drive a wedge in our mutual relations.. That's why Israel has staged such a situation by deliberately putting a Russian plane under the fire of the Syrian air defense in the hope of arousing us against Syria".[9]

MP Shhagoshev: The Plane was Downed Just After Russia And Turkey Achieved An Agreement To Stabilize Idlib

MP Adalbi Shhagoshev, member of the Duma Committee on security and fighting corruption, stated:

"The Russian plane has been downed at the moment when the Russian and Turkish presidents have achieved exemplary agreements in Sochi, regarding stabilizing the situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone. The Latakia incident is unforgivable, since it happened just after the diplomatic and military-political master classes that Putin and Erdogan provided to those international players, who 'strive' so fiercely to fight terror and resolve the Syrian situation". He then added: "Israel's inadequate reaction is a great risk. Russia is patient and is capable of responding accordingly to the incident."[10]

Communist MPs Rushkin And Parfenov: Russia Should Break Diplomatic Relations With Israel

MPs Valery Rushkin and Denis Parfenov from the Communist party have called upon Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to break diplomatic relations with Israel, following the downing of Russian plane. According to the letter signed by the MPs and obtained by RBC, "the downing of the IL20 aircraft contitutes a hostile act against Russia… This can only be treated as actions by adversaries and not as actions by a partner".

According to the letter there are no "acceptable compromises with Israel."[11]

MP Sherin Calls For Striking Israel, Then Walks Back His Words

Alexander Sherin, deputy head of the Duma's defense committee, said:

"I call upon [Russian] systems "Bastion", S-400 and Iskander to demonstrate how they really function. Here, we've got Vostok -2018 fire range – just the same should be done with the base from which [Israeli] planes have taken off, and that's it."[12]

Later, Sherin tried to walk back his words:

"I've just displayed my agreement with the position of the Chief of Staff. I do think that we should neutralize the means of delivery, obtained by the adversary. By that I mean airfields, technical infrastructure which serve the grounds for attacking our army or our allies. I have not [called] for any strikes on Israel's territory, or territory of any other state, which may lead to loss of lives. I did not encourage this and do not encourage this."[13]

Senator Klintsevich: Russia May Modernize The Air Defense, Deployed In Syria

Senator Franz Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee for Defense and Security, said: "Russia may resort to measures of modernizing the air defense, deployed in Syria."

He added that no new weapons systems will be provided to Syria and in his view Russia will not bolster its military force in the country following the incident. Yet, modernizing air defense systems will enable Russia in future "to prevent and punish any unfriendly actions towards Russia."[14]

Former Official Of The Russian MOD Ivashov: Russia May Shoot Down Israeli Jets Entering In Syria's Airspace

Leonid Ivashov, former head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Department of International Military Cooperation, commented that Russia may shoot down Israeli jet intruding Syria’s airspace. In addition, Ivashov said that Moscow could also supply armaments to Hezbollah.[15]

Lieutenant-General Netkachev: Russia May Clash With The US-Led Coalition

Lieutenant-General Yuri Netkachev, a military expert, said that the downing of the plane will worsen ties with Israel and US-led coalition. "No one noticed the fact that a French frigate also delivered missile strikes on Syria. On what grounds?" he commented. He added that there is a risk that Russian forces may directly clash with the US military and its allies.[16]

Military Expert Korotchenko: The Israeli Minister Of Defense And The IAF Chief Of Staff Should Be Fired

Igor Korotchenko, a military expert and editor in chief of the "National Security Magazine", claimed that the plane catastrophe placed dialogue with Israel in doubt.

Korotchenko also said that Israel should officially apologize and provide compensations for the loss of lives.

"The Israeli Minister of Defense and the IAF chief of staff should be fired. The Israeli government should officially apologize to Moscow and pay full [financial] compensations". He also added that Russian experts should be included in any investigation of the incident.[17]

Military Expert Khodarenko: Who Shot Down The Plane? It Was A Syrian Combat Crew That Made A Mistake, But An Indirect Fault Lies With Israel, As Well military analyst Mikhail Khodarenko commented to that the fault of the crash lies mainly on the Syrian Army. However, an "indirect fault" lies with Israel as well. Khodarenko said:

"All this happened because Syria’s combat crews didn’t actually know the situation in the airspace above the battlefield. And it was of course due to the fact that they committed a whole series of live-fire mistakes. Most importantly, when acquiring a target, they should have carefully determined its nature and statehood. Apparently, this wasn’t done. They also should have determined its coordinates, and obviously they didn’t do this, either. Carrying out live fire without this data is impossible.

"Because the S-200 missile system has certain features, we can hypothesize about what might have happened. For example, these missile systems are perfectly capable of firing based on what is called monochromatic-radiation mode, which does not determine the distance to a target, and acquisition and destruction occurs entirely through angular coordinates. The target-indication screens on S-200s are very small — no bigger than a matchbox. Without precise information about the distance to a target, mistakes are possible. To change the firing mode to determine the target’s distance, you must select the “range ambiguity” option. But this takes a certain amount of time, and the Syrians apparently were in a hurry to fire their weapon, so they didn’t bother checking the range. They opened fire without understanding whom they were targeting.

"It’s also possible that the rocket’s homing-system failed, sending it into frequency-search mode and leading it to lock onto a nearby object with the largest reflective surface — in this case, the Ilyushin Il-20. We can’t speculate about a friend-or-foe identification system, because we don’t know if one was installed. And we have absolutely no clue if the combat crew activated it.

"At the end of the day, we simply lack sufficient data to form any serious hypothesis. In fact, other than anti-aircraft fire and the plane’s destruction, we know nothing. But this was likely a mistake by specific people on the combat crew: the group’s commander, the target-acquisition officer, the guidance operator, and the launch officer. The equipment, as a rule, was probably not at fault.

"Whose version of events is more believable? Russia’s or Israel’s? Well, let’s start with the question: Who shot down the plane? It wasn’t Israel, after all, but a Syrian combat crew that made a mistake, didn’t understand what it was doing, and destroyed the wrong target. But if Israel had warned Moscow earlier about its actions, [Russia] would have probably withdrawn its aircraft from the active combat zone. So indirect fault lies with the Israelis, as well."[18]

Echo Of Moscow Host Orekh: Why Are Our Guys Dying For Syria?

Anton Orekh, columnist and host of Echo of Moscow, claimed that blaming Israel followed a pattern where Russia blamed everybody else: the Ukranians for downing the Boeing plane, the British over the Skripal poisoning, the chlorine gas attacks in Syria on the White Helmets and now it was Israel's turn to take the fall. "Especially as our people long suspect that those truly responsible for our disasters are the kikes and the masons aligned with them" Orekh wondered what the Russian aircraft was doing in the Syrian skies and what Russia is still doing in Syria.

Orekh comented:

"I want to ask a question. What was our aircraft doing in Syrian skies anyway? For what have 15 Russian soldiers died? How many months have passed since Putin declared our victory in this war, that was unnecessary for anyone except for him, and how many families have received next of kin notifications after that victory? Russian losses have mounted manifold after that victory. So, I want to ask what have our boys died for? Earlier [Russian soldiers] have been killed by local bandits, now they are killed by our so called allies. I don't give a damn who will win there, because I'm disgusted by both sides. Assad is the same scumbag as those whom he fights against. Let them kill each other – what does it have to do with us? Why our guys should die for it? Why should have a quarrel with one more descent country because of some scum? And is there any other descent country which we may call our friend?"[19]

Military Expert Goltz: What Were The Actions Of The Russian Military After Israel's Notification?

Independent military expert Aleksandr Goltz commented that the accusations against Israel by the Russian MOD are being used to deflect attention from Syria and Russia's mistakes:

"The Russian MOD's fierce accusations against Israel are apparently designed to impede posing to the heroes of the Syrian campaign some obvious questions. Has any of the Russian commanders bothered himself during the last three years to implement 'friend-foe' elements so Syrian government forces would not down our plane by mistake? It's very curious who and how have trained Syrian fighters and why upon missing they did not initiate the missile self-destruct mechanism]? And finally, it's very interesting to learn of the actions by the Russian military after receiving the late Israeli notification? Did they demand from the Syrian allies to stop firing immediately? Russian military is not very comfortable answering those questions. It's much easier to blame Israeli 'warmongers'."[20]




[1], September 19, 2018.

[2], September 18, 2018.

[3], September 18, 2018.

[4], September 18, 2018.

[5], September 18, 2018.

[6], September 18, 2018.

[7], September 20, 2018.

[8], September 20, 2018.

[9], September 18, 2018.

[10], September 18, 2018.

[11], September 18, 2018.

[12], September 18, 2018.

[13], September 19, 2018.

[14], September 18, 2018.

[15], September 19, 2018.

[16], September 19, 2018.

[17], September 18, 2018.

[18], September 19, 2018.

[19] Echo.msk,ru, September 18, 2018.

[20], September 19, 2018.

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