Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday that it would publish the findings of an initial investigation into the downing by Syria earlier this week of a Russian plane carrying 15 military personnel near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, which set off a diplomatic tensions between Moscow and Jerusalem.
The aircraft was destroyed by Syria’s Russian-made S-200 air defense system, as it attempted to respond to an Israeli air strike. All 15 crewmen aboard were killed.
“The minute-by-minute timeline of the tragedy will be given with a presentation of objective data from the radars’ data handling system about the air situation in Syria on September 17 and actions of Israel’s air force in the area of the crash,” the ministry said in a statement cited by the TASS news agency.
The Israeli military said its fighter jets were targeting a Syrian military facility involved in providing weapons for Iran’s proxy Hezbollah terror group and has insisted it warned Russia of the coming raid in accordance with deconfliction agreements.
The Russian military initially accused Israeli pilots of using the Russian plane as a cover, but Russian President Vladimir Putin later described the incident as the result of “tragic accidental circumstances,” although he warned Israel to ensure it not recur.
Following the incident, in an attempt to get ahead of the crisis, the IDF acknowledged the strike and released some of the findings of its initial investigation, which found that the Syrian air defense units fired “indiscriminately” and “did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.”
Israel also sent top officials, including the head of its air force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, to Moscow to share with their Russian counterparts the IDF’s initial findings.
On Saturday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied a claim by Intelligence Minister Israel Katz saying Putin was refusing to answer telephone calls from Syrian President Bashar Assad and that he was angry with the Syrian leader over the incident.
Peskov said in an audio recording aired on Israeli TV that this claim “did not correspond with reality; don’t believe these Israeli reports, first of all.” Peskov spoke a day after the Israeli Air Force delegation left Moscow. Putin, he said, had presented his position over the matter, and no more speculation at this time was necessary.
In a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, Putin, while absolving Israel of direct responsibility for the incident, said Israel had breached Syrian sovereignty and that Israel should “not to allow such situations in the future.”
Putin’s criticism has been muted, but other parts of the Russian government have maintained a harsh line with Israel over the incident. The Russian defense ministry in its statement Saturday said Israel’s actions “put [the aircraft] in the line of fire,” and Russia’s embassy in Tel Aviv on Thursday called Israel’s actions “irresponsible and unfriendly.”
A senior Israeli army official said Friday that “improvements” may be made to the Israeli military’s coordination with Russia over its operations in Syria following the incident.
The official said an Israeli military delegation to Moscow had answered Russia’s questions over Monday’s incident, including debunking the false notion that the Israeli jets had hidden behind the Russian plane. Israel also clarified that its attack planes had left the area before the Syrians fired the missile that downed the Russian plane.
Also on Saturday, a Hezbollah-affiliated TV channel said Russia was expected to close the airspace over Syrian waters in response to the downed aircraft. The measure is slated to go into effect on September 26, upon the completion of the large-scale naval exercise Moscow is currently carrying out on the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, the al-Mayadeen news outlet reported.
Russia has been in contact with “the relevant countries” in preparation for the move, according to the report.
Moscow has vowed to respond with new security measures to the incident.
The al-Mayadeen report followed a similar one Thursday in the Cypriot-based Phileleftheros newspaper. The daily said Russia had effectively sealed off much of the airspace and waters surrounding Cyprus in a further increase of its activities in the area following the spy plane downing.
The paper noted that the Russian operations would cause considerable difficulties for traffic moving into and out of the island.
Putin, for his part, has warned that Russia will respond by “taking additional steps to protect our servicemen and assets in Syria,” and Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said that those will include deploying automated protection systems at Russia’s air and naval bases in Syria.