Turkey seeks to calm tensions with Russia over jet
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday sought to ease tensions with Moscow over the downing of a Russian warplane over Syria, and said the world must unite to defeat the Islamic State group.
Russia ordered sweeping retaliatory measures after Turkish fighter jets shot down the warplane on Tuesday, threatening ties between two rival players in the Syrian war and raising fears of a wider international conflict.
After a series of furious tit-for-tat recriminations, Ankara said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin “face to face” when the two leaders are in Paris for the climate summit next week, although the idea has had a cool response from Russia.
Peskov earlier told reporters the Turks had asked for a meeting but said only: “The president has been told about this request… That’s all I can say.”
Ankara has also “temporarily” suspended air strikes against IS targets in Syria in order to avoid any further such confrontations, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper said.
Turkey says the plane strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings but Russia, which has been waging air strikes in Syria since September, insisted it did not cross the border.
“While the measures to defend our territory will remain in place, Turkey will work with Russia and our allies to calm tensions,” Davutoglu wrote in Friday’s edition of The Times in London.
“The downing of an unidentified jet in Turkish airspace was not — and is not — an act against a specific country,” he said.
– ‘Common enemy’ –
Russia and Turkey are uneasy allies but are on opposite sides in the Syrian conflict, with Ankara backing rebels fighting to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad while Moscow is one of his last remaining allies.
The downing of the plane has highlighted the difficulty of forging consensus on Syria but Davutoglu said the world should unite against a “common enemy”.
“The international community must not turn on itself. Otherwise the only victors will be Daesh… and the Syrian regime,” he said, using an Arabic term for IS jihadists.
“The focus should be to tackle, head-on, the international threat that Daesh poses, securing the future of Syria and seeking a solution to the current refugee crisis.”
But the Kremlin said Friday that Western powers were not ready to form a coalition with Russia to fight the IS group.
Russia launched its own air strikes in support of the Assad regime in September, to the consternation of Western and Arab nations involved in US-led coalition bombing IS targets in both Syria and Iraq.
“At the moment, unfortunately, our partners are not ready to work within the format of single coalition,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
His comments came a day after Putin and French President Francois Hollande agreed to coordinate strikes against the brutal jihadist group, although differences remained over the future of Syria.
Meanwhile, Moscow has vowed to carry out broad retaliatory measures against Turkey’s economy, including its key tourism industry, food imports and an array of joint economic projects.
In particular, the measures could hit two major projects — a gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant — set to raise concerns in energy-poor Turkey whose biggest oil and gas supplier is Russia.
Erdogan on Thursday angrily rebuffed the Kremlin’s demands for an apology and said Putin had snubbed a phone call from him after the incident.
Putin branded it a “stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists”, effectively accusing Turkey of collaborating with Islamic State extremists.
“We are under the impression that the Turkish leadership is deliberately pushing Russian-Turkish relations into deadlock. We regret that,” said Putin.
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 a soldier was killed in a rescue operation.