ANKARA/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Turkey recovered the body of a Russian pilot from northern Syria and presented it to Russian diplomats on Sunday, five days after shooting down his warplane in an incident that wrecked relations between two of the main powers involved in Syria’s war.
A coffin carrying Oleg Peshkov arrived by ambulance on the tarmac of Hatay Airport in southern Turkey near the Syrian border, a Reuters photographer said.
It was flown to the capital Ankara, where according to Russia’s RIA news agency it was met at an airfield by Moscow’s ambassador and military attache. The Russian embassy declined to comment and Turkish officials did not immediately disclose when the body would be repatriated to Russia.
The shooting down of the Russian fighter jet by NATO-member Turkey, the first known incident of its kind since the Cold War, has set back efforts to forge a united front against Islamic State in the weeks since militant group claimed responsibility for mass killings in Paris and blowing up a Russian airliner.
Moscow has responded toward Ankara with fury, calling the episode a pre-planned provocation. President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Saturday imposing punitive economic sanctions against Turkey. Details of Turkish goods that will be banned and other measures under the decree are expected to be announced in coming days.
Since the downing of the plane, Moscow has ramped up air strikes against rebels in Syria near the Turkish border. Civil defense workers in opposition-held territory said dozens of civilians were killed on Sunday in a strike by apparent Russian warplanes on a crowded market in the town of Ariha.
Turkey says it shot down Peshkov’s plane in its air space after it ignored repeated warnings. Russia says it was flying over Syria and was struck unprovoked. The navigator of the two-seat jet survived but a second Russian service member was killed rescuing him from northern Syria.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutgolu said on Sunday that Peshkov’s body had arrived in Turkey overnight, but gave no further details of how it was recovered or brought across the border.
Turkey is part of a coalition of countries led by the United States that have been bombing Islamic State positions in both Syria and Iraq, while also calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.