Russia says fired warning shots at Turkish ship in Aegean to avoid collision

MOSCOW (REUTERS, AFP) - The Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday (Dec 13) one of its warships, the destroyer Smetlivy, had been forced to fire warning shots at a Turkish vessel in the Aegean Sea to avoid a collision and that it had summoned the Turkish military attache over the incident.

The Interfax news agency said that the Turkish vessel, which the ministry did not name, had failed to respond to earlier warnings, but had sharply changed course after shots were fired before passing within 500 metres of the Russian warship.

"The crew of the Russian patrol ship Smetlivy which was located 22 kilometres from the Greek island of Lemnos in the northern part of the Aegean Sea avoided collision with a Turkish seiner," the defence ministry said.

At 0603 GMT (2.03pm Singapore time), the Russian warship, which was at anchor, spotted a Turkish fishing boat some 1,000 metres away, the defence ministry said, adding the boat had been approaching it from the right. "Despite numerous attempts by the Smetlivy, the crew of the Turkish seiner would not engage in radio contact and did not respond to special visual signals," the ministry added.

Moscow said the crew had to fire small arms in the direction of the boat at "a guaranteed survivability distance" when there were some 600 metres between the two vessels "to prevent the collision of the ships."

"Immediately after that the Turkish vessel drastically changed course and continued its movement past the Smetlivy at the distance of 540 metres without engaging in contact with the Russian crew," the ministry said.

Deputy defence minister Anatoly Antonov summoned a Turkish military attache, it added.

The latest incident came after Turkey downed a Russian bomber at the Syrian border in November, leading to the biggest crisis in ties between the two countries since the end of the Cold War.

After the downing of the warplane, which led to the deaths of a pilot and another serviceman who attempted to rescue him, Russia introduced economic sanctions against Turkey and beefed up its firepower at its airbase in Syria.

President Vladimir Putin on Friday delivered a thinly veiled warning to Ankara and told his forces in Syria to take tough action against any threats.

"I would like to warn those who would once again try to organise some sort of provocations against our servicemen," Putin said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday that Ankara's patience with Moscow after the downing of the warplane was "not unlimited", urging Moscow to react calmly.