Defence Minister Shoigu showing Putin the flight recorder of the downed SU24
Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has delivered another report to Putin about Russia’s military campaign in Syria.
The most curious moment of this report came when Shoigu appeared to say to Putin that the Syrian military - backed by the Russian air force - has gained full control of the area near the Turkish border where the SU24 was shot down.
Putin - very unusually - then interrupted him. Moreover he did so in a very strange way, apparently deliberately muddling the recent recapture of this territory with the earlier search for the flight crew.
Here is the full exchange:
From the Hmeymim airfield, we actively worked on territories where militants who shot our pilot are based. As a result, all these areas have been liberated, and the Syrian Army’s special operation forces…
Vladimir Putin: Searching for the crew?
Sergei Shoigu: Yes. The Syrian service members searched the territory, detected our aircraft’s crash site, and all these bandits were leaving so fast they did not have time to take anything from the aircraft, so we discovered a parametric recorder, which we brought here and which I would like to show you……”
It is not at all obvious why Putin chose to act in this strange way.
Possibly he was anxious to limit discussion of the Russian role in the operation to recapture this territory. Perhaps he did not want Shoigu to let out that Russian ground forces - almost certainly Special Forces - were involved.
Alternatively, it may be that Putin did not want to increase the domestic political pressure on Erdogan from hardline Turkish nationalists by disclosing that the “Turkmen villages” the Turkish air force are supposedly “defending” are now under Syrian government control.
The one thing that did emerge unambiguously from this conversation is that the Syrians and the Russians now have complete control of the SU24’s crash site and full possession of its wreckage.
This includes the aircraft’s flight recorder, which Shoigu showed Putin during the meeting.
The Russians are planning to open the recorder in the presence of foreign experts. This is in order to prove their claim that the SU24 never strayed into Turkish air space, contrary to what the Turks have been saying.
To his intense embarrassment David Cameron actually received a request from Putin on 9th December 2015 for British help to examine the flight recorder.
Clearly the Russians still have the Turks in their sights, and they not prepared to let the incident of the SU24 rest.