At the end of November, cameras pointing to the skies over Syria captured a burning Russian jet after two Turkish F-16s fired air-to-air missiles at the aircraft. The Russian SU-24, a ground attack aircraft, was reportedly flying illegally through Turkish airspace when the interceptors struck.
Russia immediately denied their plane was ever inside the Turkish border, releasing transponder data to prove their claim. However, the Turkish defence ministry countered saying its jets warned the Russian pilots 10 times within five minutes not to enter Turkish airspace and released its own radar tracking data showing the Russian jet did cross the border.
Observers of the conflict in Syria and Europe have been concerned with increasing Russian aggression in crossing illegally through other country’s airspace since the beginning of the year. Indeed, it is surprising such an incident with the Turkish interceptors hasn’t happened before. At a minimum, Russian ground attack aircraft will now be escorted by air superiority fighters to avoid a repeat, increasing the amount of armed aircraft in the region and the probability of mistakes.
Turkey has been reticent to join either the international coalition, led by the US, or Russian efforts in Syria. Ankara treats northern Syria the same way Russia considers Ukraine – as an existential protection for its core. Its goal is to ensure both the Kurds and Syrian President Bashar al Assad are weakened during the current civil war. Turkey therefore thinks the Islamic State group is a useful tool, rather than enemy, putting Ankara at odds with the international community.
In the US, the controversial metadata collection programme, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, passed through its 180 day grace period on Sunday. As a result, the parts of the programme collecting phone records of millions of Americans has been switched off. The collection of internet and social media data will remain in effect according to the USA Freedom Act – the updated Patriot Act.
Ending the phone record collection is a small victory for privacy advocates. The Obama administration has attempted to balance security and privacy regarding its intelligence collection and thinks some parts of the divisive programme are worth retaining. Shutting down the entire programme risks undermining overall security in the US.