Russia-Turkey war of words escalates over downed warplane
Moscow slapped sanctions on Ankara on Friday as the war of words over a downed Russian warplane escalated, with Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning Russia not to “play with fire”.
Russia announced it was halting a visa-free regime for Turkish visitors, after threatening a raft of retaliatory economic measures to punish the NATO member state.
Tuesday’s incident has sent recriminations flying between two rival players in the Syrian war just as countries such as France are pushing for a broader coalition to try to defeat the Islamic State group.
The angry exchange has not been limited to official channels.
In Crimea, a group of young people gathered around a hay effigy with the face of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set up on the main square of Simferopol.
Activists in Moscow, belonging to a youth wing of the conservative Rodina party, put a life-size inflatable doll of Erdogan in a coffin and delivered it to the Turkish embassy.
Pictures on the group’s website also showed the activists laying several funeral wreaths with ribbons saying “From Russian patriots to US puppets” outside the embassy.
Police detained two organisers. They were let go when law enforcement discovered they were municipal lawmakers, the group said.
“We advise Russia not to play with fire,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, lashing out at Russia’s response to the downing as well as its support of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Erdogan nevertheless said he wanted a direct meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when the two leaders are in Paris next week for the UN climate summit.
But Moscow officially responded coolly, saying Turkey has yet to apologise for shooting down the jet on the Syrian border.
– ‘Crossed the line’ –
Turkey says the Su-24 warplane strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings but Russia insisted it did not cross from Syria.
It is thought to be the first downing of a Russian plane by a NATO member in more than half a century.
One of the pilots was shot dead in Syria after parachuting out of the burning plane while the second was found safe and sound, but one Russian soldier was killed in a rescue operation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Turkey had “crossed the line of what is acceptable” and warned the incident could severely undermine both its national and regional interests.
Moscow has ruled out any military response, but has pledged broad measures targeting entire sectors of the Turkish economy including tourism, agriculture and possibly key energy projects.
Lavrov said Turkish nationals would require visas from January 1, after Putin this week warned citizens not to travel to Turkey — a hugely popular destination for Russians.
“Russia is quite concerned with increasing terrorist threats in the Republic of Turkey,” Lavrov added, after a spate of bloody attacks blamed on Islamic State extremists there.
– Opposed in Syria –
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday gave ministers two days to work out a plan to curb cooperation with Turkish companies after Russia said it would tighten checks on food imports over alleged safety standard violations.
Moscow has also hinted the reprisals could hit two major projects with Turkey — a planned gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant.
The two countries have built trade ties in recent years and Russia is already energy-poor Turkey’s biggest oil and gas supplier.
But they are on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Ankara backing rebels fighting to topple Assad while Moscow is one of his last remaining allies.
Erdogan, whose ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide election victory earlier this month, said Turkey did not “deliberately” shoot down the plane.
He dismissed Putin’s criticism of the incident as “unacceptable”, noting that Russian planes had twice violated Turkish air space in October.
He also attacked the Kremlin’s policy in Syria after it launched air strikes in September, saying it was backing the “murderer” Assad and not targeting IS jihadists.