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Russia Blames Israel For Plane Shot Down By Syria


Russia has said it's winding down military operations in Syria, but its air force still plays a critical role in propping up Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Last night, Syria's air defense accidentally shot down an allied Russian spy plane. All 15 service members onbaord were killed. And Russia isn't blaming Syria. It's holding Israel responsible. Lucian Kim reports from Moscow.



LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: The downing of an Ilyushin-20 reconnaissance plane in Syria has been running at the top of every newscast in Russia. But the news isn't about a tragic case of friendly fire. It's about sneaky Israeli fighter pilots who sought cover from Syrian air defenses behind the Russian plane.


IGOR KONASHENKOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Igor Konashenkov, the Defense Ministry's spokesman, said Russia viewed Israel's actions as hostile and reserved the right to take what he called appropriate actions in response.


KIM: Russian warplanes have been flying missions on behalf of the Syrian regime for almost three years now, and Moscow has established special hotlines with Israel and the United States exactly to avoid this kind of event. This time, the Russian Defense Ministry says it didn't receive any advance warning that Israel was carrying out airstrikes in Syria. The Israel Defense Forces say they had indeed conducted an air raid inside Syria against Iranian targets. But the Israelis say their fighters were out of the area when the Russian plane was brought down by what they call inaccurate and indiscriminate Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

ALEKSANDR GOLTS: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Aleksandr Golts, a defense analyst in Moscow, says that according to the Defense Ministry's own statement, the Russian plane was much higher than the Israeli fighters. He says the whole world understands what happened.

GOLTS: (Through interpreter) The official Russian version is only for domestic consumption because people need an explanation for why our Syrian allies shot down a Russian plane and 15 service members died.

KIM: President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly announced a drawdown of Russian forces in Syria. And on Monday, he reached an agreement with Turkey to set up a demilitarized zone in northern Syria. Speaking in the Kremlin, Putin was vague about how Russia would react to the loss of its aircraft.



KIM: Putin said Russia's response would be additional security measures for Russian forces stationed in Syria. The Russian president has a close personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has visited Russia three times this year already. The two leaders spoke on the phone after the incident. Netanyahu again blamed Syria but promised to provide Putin with all the necessary information to help the Russian investigation. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRHYME'S "COURTESY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.