Turkey accuses Russia of new airspace violation

A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber takes off in Syria on Oct 3, 2015.
A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber takes off in Syria on Oct 3, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkey on Saturday accused Russia of a new violation of its airspace, warning Moscow it would “face consequences” amid the worst relations between the two countries since the end of the Cold War.

The Turkish foreign ministry said a Russian Su-34 plane violated Turkish airspace at 0946 GMT on Friday despite repeated warnings from Turkish air radar units in Russian and English.

In November, Turkey, a key Nato member, shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border, sparking a war of words with Russia which insisted its plane had not violated Turkish airspace.

Russia launched a massive air campaign in Syria in September against rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time Moscow ally whom Turkey bitterly opposes.

Ankara on Friday summoned the Russian ambassador to the foreign ministry to “strongly protest and condemn” the latest alleged airspace violation.

A Russian embassy spokesman declined to comment on the talks between the ambassador and Turkish officials.

“We will not comment on the subject of discussions with his colleagues at the foreign ministry,” spokesman Igor Mityakov told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg on Saturday called on Russia to “act responsibly and to fully respect Nato airspace”.

“Russia must take all necessary measures to ensure that such violations do not happen again,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

“Previous incidents have shown how dangerous such behaviour is”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russia would “have to face consequences if it keeps up such violations”.

“Such irresponsible steps do not benefit either the Russian Federation, or Russia-Nato relations, or regional and global peace”, he told reporters at an Istanbul airport before setting off for a Latin America tour.

The Turkish foreign ministry did not specify where the latest violation took place although it is likely to have been close to the Syrian border where Russian troops are operating.

“This violation is a new and concrete indicator of Russian Federation actions to escalate problems despite clear warnings from our country and Nato,” the ministry added.

Erdogan also said he wanted to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss the crisis in their relationship, although it was not immediately clear if this request came after the latest violation.

The Turkish strongman has in recent weeks repeatedly, and in vain, called for a meeting with the Russian leader.

“I’ve asked our foreign ministry undersecretary that I want to meet with Mr Putin but our embassy there has informed us here that there’s been no response from (Russia) since then,” said Erdogan.

Relations between Moscow and Ankara are at their lowest ebb in decades, prompted by the November 24 downing of the Russian jet which infuriated Moscow.

Putin has vowed that Turkey will be made to regret the incident, with the Kremlin announcing sanctions including a ban on the import of some foods and a halt on sales of holiday packages, a major blow to Turkish tourism.

The two countries also back opposing sides in Syria’s almost five-year civil war, with Russia the key supporter of the Damascus regime while Turkey argues that the ouster of Assad is essential to solving the Syrian crisis.

Last year, Turkey started flights to Syria to bomb Islamic State in Iraq and Syria positions in the war-torn country as part of the international air campaign against the jihadist group.

But Turkish media reported that the Turkish airforce suspended missions of its aircraft over Syria in the aftermath of the downing of the Russian jet to avoid further controversy with Russia.

Stoltenberg on Saturday made clear that Nato would stand by Turkey, the second largest military power in the alliance after the United States.

“Nato stands in solidarity with Turkey and supports the territorial integrity of our ally, Turkey.”