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Saturday 24 February 2018

Vladimir Putin: Turkey acted against its own interests by downing Russian plane

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow (AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow (AP)

Vladimir Putin said Turkey acted contrary to its own interests by downing a Russian war plane, adding that he sees no possibility of overcoming the diplomatic strain under the current Turkish leadership.

Speaking with emphasis and gesturing energetically throughout a marathon news conference that lasted more than three hours and was televised live, the Russian president said Turkey tried to "lick the Americans in some of their private parts" by downing the plane.

Ankara said its fighter jet shot down the Russian bomber after it violated the Turkish airspace for 17 seconds despite repeated warnings, while Moscow insisted that the plane stayed in the Syrian airspace.

Mr Putin said that Russia was particularly annoyed because instead of offering an apology over its "hostile" action that left one of the plane's pilots and a Russian marine dead, Turkey turned to Nato for help.

He said that he had previously agreed to accommodate Turkey's concerns regarding Syria, adding that the Turkish leadership had never asked Russia to refrain from striking that specific area.

"Couldn't they just make a call or warn the military via the communications channels that existed and say: 'Look, there are our interests here so please don't hit it?'" he asked.

"Did they think that we will leave? Russia isn't that kind of a country. We only have increased our presence there."

He said that Russia has responded by sending additional war planes to a base in Syria and deploying the long-range S-400 air defence missile systems there, putting an end to what he said were regular violations of Syrian airspace by Turkish jets.

"Turkey had constantly violated Syria's airspace, but let them try to fly over there now," he added.

Mr Putin said that "someone in the Turkish leadership may have decided to lick the Americans in some of their private parts" in the hope that Washington would turn a blind eye to Turkey's deployment of additional troops to Iraq if they down a Russian plane.

Turning to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, he said Russia was interested in seeing the conflict settled as quickly as possible.

He urged the Ukrainian government to approve legislation on holding elections in the eastern regions, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting government troops since April 2014.

More than 9,000 people have been killed.

While insisting that Russia has no regular troops in eastern Ukraine, Mr Putin acknowledged that there have been people "performing some military tasks".

Asked whether Moscow is ready to exchange two men Ukraine says are Russian soldiers for Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko and other prisoners, he said any exchange must be equal and details could be discussed with Ukrainian authorities.

Commenting on relations with Washington, he said that Russia supports a US-drafted UN Security Council resolution on settling the Syrian crisis, presented by US secretary of state John Kerry during his visit to Moscow earlier this week.

Mr Putin said: "In general, we like it. I believe that the Syrian authorities should be OK with it too, although they may not like something in it."

He added that "concessions must be made by both sides" to end the conflict that has killed more than 250,000 and turned millions into refugees since 2011.

He said the Russian approach, "strangely as it may seem, coincides with the US vision: joint work on a constitution, creation of instruments of control over future early elections, holding the vote and recognising its results on the basis of that political process."

Mr Putin added: "We will help settle this crisis in every possible way."

At the same time, he reaffirmed Russia's stance on the key issue that divided Russia and the West, the fate of Syrian president Bashar Assad, saying the Syrians themselves must determine who rules them.

Putin added that Mr Kerry's visit has shown that "the American side is ready to move towards joint settlement of the issues that can only be tackled jointly".

He also said that Russia's air campaign in Syria, launched on September 30, will go on until a peace process starts, but it is up to the Syrians to decide when to stop fighting and sit down for talks.

"We aren't going to be more Syrian than the Syrians themselves," he added.

Mr Putin explained that Russia was working with Egypt to restore air links severed following the October 31 crash of a Russian passenger in the Sinai desert.

Moscow has said that the crash that killed all 224 people on board was caused by a bomb, and Islamic State claimed that it brought down the plane.

Putin said the suspension of flights was not political and only intended to ensure the safety of Russian citizens.

He praised Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for his "remarkable personal courage" in the fight against terror and said that the flights will resume once Russian and Egyptian officials work out the necessary safety measures, including the presence of Russian experts at Egyptian airports.

He also vowed that the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov will be solved and no one will be immune from prosecution.

Already on his way out of the hall, he was asked about US presidential candidate Donald Trump and praised him as a "very bright and talented man", adding that he welcomes the Republican's pledges to establish closer ties with Russia.

Press Association

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