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Terrorism & Security

Turkey grounds Armenian plane in growing de facto air blockade of Syria

A week after raising Russian ire by grounding a plane traveling from Russia to Syria, Turkey grounded an Armenian airliner – this time in a routine check arranged in a recently inked agreement. 

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"If we leave the issue to the vote of one or two members of the permanent five at the United Nations security council, then the aftermath of Syria will be very hazardous and humanity will write it down in history with unforgettable remarks," Erdogan said. "It's high time to consider a structural change for international institutions, especially for the UN security council."

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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The situation in Syria has strained ties between Turkey and Russia, whose relations have been warming since the end of the cold war.  Although Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Voice of Russia that Turkish-Russian relations are "developing on a firm and solid basis," Russia's intransigent support for the Assad regime is at odds with Turkey and much of the world. This may be due to Russian President Vladimir Putin's personal suspicions of the West, The Christian Science Monitor reported last week.

"Russia's ongoing support for Assad is totally ideological," says [Alexander Golts, military columnist for the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal]. "Putin is certain that all this turmoil with the Arab Spring is the result of a CIA conspiracy, and he sees it as his personal duty to struggle against it."

The Monitor also notes that despite Russia's insistence that there were no weapons on board the Syrian plane, the legal situation regarding the jet's grounding remain murky.

"Russia's position is that it's illegal to force a plane to land in this way. It's only done if an aircraft diverges from its assigned route or it represents a threat to the country it's flying over," he says.

"On the other hand, it does seem that if the plane was carrying radar parts from air defense systems, as reported, then that's a military cargo that shouldn't be hauled aboard a civilian plane. Now it's up to lawyers to sort it out," he adds.

In addition, Russia's argument that there were no weapons on board may be beside the point. According to Article 35 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, of which almost every UN member – including Russia, Syria, and Turkey – are signatories, "No munitions of war or implements of war may be carried in or above the territory of a State in aircraft engaged in international navigation, except by permission of such State."

The convention does not define the terms "munitions of war or implements of war," but rather leaves them to be defined by each state per its own regulations.

As a result, while Russia may be correct that the Syrian passenger plane was transporting only radar parts – reportedly for an anti-aircraft system – and not weapons or ammunition, those parts may still run afoul of international law.  While weapons and ammo are undeniably "munitions of war," Turkey could argue that an anti-aircraft radar can also be considered an "implement of war," as its purpose is solely military (if defensive).

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