Russia to bolster Syria base, eyes economic retaliation against Turkey

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) said that Russia is sending its most hi-tech air defence system to Syria.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) said that Russia is sending its most hi-tech air defence system to Syria. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (REUTERS, AFP) – Russia is to send an advanced air defence system to reinforce its air base in Syria and is considering cancelling a raft of joint business projects with Ankara after Turkey shot down of one of its warplanes, top government officials said.

The incident, which resulted in the killing of one of the SU-24 plane’s two pilots and a Russian marine, has thrown Russo-Turkish relations into crisis and cooled Kremlin hopes of rapprochement with the West.

On Wednesday, the Kremlin said Moscow would dispatch an S-400 air defence system to bolster its Khmeimim air base in Syria’s Latakia province, an advanced weapons system that can be used to shoot down planes at long distance.

“I hope that this, along with other measures that we are taking, will be enough to ensure (the safety) of our flights,”Putin told reporters.  

The announcement is likely to be viewed as a stark warning to Turkey not to try to shoot down any more Russian planes, which have been bombing Islamist militants and rebels since Sept 30.

There was initial confusion about which weapons system Putin was referring to. In comments broadcast on state television, Putin spoke about an S-300 missile system.  However his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and a Kremlin spokesman were later quoted as saying that the even more advanced S-400 system would be dispatched to Syria.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Ankara could also expect to be on the receiving end of economic and business sanctions. Speaking in the city of Yekaterinburg, Medvedev said the Kremlin may now move to cancel important joint projects with Turkey, saying Turkish firms – who are active in everything from construction to retailing – could see their market share in Russia shrink.

Complaining that Turkey’s actions had increased tensions between Russia and Nato, of which Ankara is a member, Medvedev reiterated Putin’s accusation that unnamed Turkish officials were benefiting from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) oil sales. The result, he said, was that long-running neighbourly ties between Russia and Turkey had been ruptured.

“The direct consequences could lead to our refusal to take part in a whole raft of important joint projects and Turkish companies losing their positions on the Russian market,”Medvedev said in a statement.

Putin also stepped up his criticism of Turkey’s leadership, saying they had steadily been encouraging what he called the “Islamisation” of Turkish society, something he said was a problem.

Separately, the Russian ambassador to France said on Wednesday Russia would be prepared to "create a joint staff" to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in which Moscow would work with France, the United States and even Turkey.

"We are prepared to... plan strikes on Daesh (ISIS) positions together and create a joint staff with France, the US, with all the countries who want to be in this coalition," said Mr Alexander Orlov, adding: "If the Turks want to be in at as well, they are welcome" despite tensions after Turkey downed a Russian military jet.