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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Tensions mount over downed Russian jet

Raziye Akkoc

Published 28/11/2015 | 02:30

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month.

Vladimir Putin has refused contact with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the latter's offer to meet because Ankara refuses to apologise for shooting down a Russian warplane, an aide to the Russian president said.

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Relations between Moscow and Ankara have plunged into crisis since the incident on Tuesday. Turkey claims the jet had violated its airspace while flying over northern Syria.

The two pilots ejected from the plane but one was killed while another was rescued several hours later.

In retaliation for Turkey's actions, Russia prepared to impose punishing economic sanctions against Turkey, including abandoning a flagship pipeline project and a $20bn nuclear power deal.

Turkish media reported yesterday that the Turkish army suspended flights over Syria as part of the US-led coalition against Isil, in a decision taken after Turkey shot down the plane, diplomatic sources told 'Hurriyet Daily News'.

It was claimed that Turkey's decision was a "mutual decision taken with Russia".

Diplomatic sources also claimed that Russia had also halted its airstrikes near the Turkish border, although Moscow has made no statements to this effect.

But a government official told AFP that the claims about Turkey's suspension were "inaccurate".

"At this time, Turkey remains fully committed to fighting Isil as part of the international coalition," the official said.

"Our policy remains unchanged and the claims, therefore, are inaccurate. Turkey's participation in coalition air strikes is determined by ourselves and our allies alone depending on mutual assessments of military developments on the ground," the official added.

The tense situation escalated further on Friday when the Russian foreign minister said Moscow would suspend the visa-free regime with Turkey from January 1, 2016. Sergei Lavrov also questioned Turkey's commitment to fighting terrorism during a press conference.

"We have more and more questions about the activity of Ankara and its real commitment to eradicating terrorism," Mr Lavrov said, after meeting his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moualem in Moscow.

Mr Erdogan said on Friday he wanted to meet Mr Putin on Monday during the climate summit in Paris next week, but the Russian president has refused to contact Mr Erdogan because of Ankara's refusal to apologise.

Since the incident, the war of words between the two countries and their leaders increased with Mr Erdogan accusing the Russian president of slander. Mr Putin suggested Turkey bought oil from Isil and was an "accomplice" of terrorists.

Mr Putin said on Tuesday that Isil was "protected by the military of an entire nation", alluding to Turkey as he said Ankara had "stabbed Russia in the back".

"Isil has big money, hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, from selling oil. In addition they are protected by the military of an entire nation. One can understand why they are acting so boldly and blatantly. Why they kill people in such atrocious ways. Why they commit terrorist acts across the world, including in the heart of Europe," Mr Putin said.

The Turkish president refused to ignore such comments and fired back on Thursday, saying Mr Putin was a slanderer: "Shame on you. Those who claim we buy oil from Daesh are obliged to prove it. If not, you are a slanderer," Mr Erdogan said.

The next day, Mr Erdogan described Mr Putin's claims as "unfair" as he warned Russia not to "play with fire". He called on Russia to give evidence to show such claims about Isil oil were true.

In the row that has seen the leaders continue to attack each other with words, Mr Erdogan accused Moscow of supporting Bashar al-Assad's "terrorist state", responsible for the deaths of 380,000 people.

The Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet was shot down on Tuesday morning by a Turkish F-16 jet after 10 warnings not to violate Turkish airspace, the Turkish military claimed. Russia vehemently denies it violated Ankara's airspace. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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