Putin steps up verbal attacks on Turkey

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his annual address to the Federal Assembly in St. George's Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow on Dec 3.
Russian President Vladimir Putin during his annual address to the Federal Assembly in St. George's Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow on Dec 3. PHOTO: EPA

Russian leader also threatens more punitive steps over downing of country's warplane

MOSCOW • President Vladimir Putin has raised the temperature in an increasingly bitter confrontation with Turkey over the downing of a Russian warplane last week, saying the country's "ruling gang" has lost reason, and threatening more punitive measures following economic sanctions.

"Only Allah knows why they did this," Mr Putin said yesterday in his state-of-the-nation address, drawing applause from his audience at the Kremlin. "And it seems that Allah decided to punish the ruling gang in Turkey by stripping it of common sense and reason."

Repeating claims that Turkey is making money from the illegal oil trade of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Mr Putin vowed that Russia "won't forget those who shot our pilots in the back".

The worst confrontation between Russia and a Nato member since the Cold War has complicated Mr Putin's efforts to form an anti-terror alliance with France and the rest of the US-led coalition after a wave of terrorist attacks. ISIS has claimed responsibility for killing 224 people by blowing up a Russian tourist plane over Egypt in October and for the Paris attacks last month that left 130 people dead.

Mr Timothy Ash, a credit strategist at Nomura International in London, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "has a very long memory and the relationship will struggle to recover from this.

"The religious angle being used by Putin is unlikely to go down well in the region, where Erdogan is still seen as a defender of the Sunni faith."

Mr Putin repeated his call for a joint front under the United Nations to defeat terrorism, saying it is impossible to achieve that goal "through the efforts of a single country". He also compared the fight against ISIS to the struggle against Nazism, saying the battle is a fight for justice, in which Russia is playing a leading role.

The Russian leader began his speech by asking for a moment's silence in honour of Russian servicemen killed in Syria, where his military is conducting airstrikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad against ISIS and other rebels in their four-year-old civil war.

The call for unity contrasts with Mr Putin's tone a year ago, when he attacked the US and Europe for backing the government in Kiev following Russia's annexation of Crimea and amid a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Russia's economy has been battered by US and EU sanctions, and Mr Putin said Russians must be ready for prolonged low oil prices. He highlighted some improvement in the recession-hit economy as inflation eases even as people's living standards remain under pressure.

"The situation is definitely difficult, but not critical," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'Putin steps up verbal attacks on Turkey'. Print Edition | Subscribe