No apology, so Putin refuses to contact Turkish President

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Antalya on Nov 16.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Antalya on Nov 16. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW/ANKARA • Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to contact Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan because Ankara does not want to apologise for shooting down a Russian warplane earlier this week, an aide in Moscow said.

In Russia's Lower House yesterday, Speaker Sergei Naryshkin also said that Russia has the right to make a military response to the plane's downing, even as Mr Erdogan warned Russia not to "play with fire".

Moscow is seething after the Russian warplane carrying out strikes in Syria was shot down on the Turkish-Syrian border on Tuesday - an incident Mr Putin described as "treachery" and a "stab in the back".

Ankara has argued that it did not realise the plane, which it said had violated Turkish airspace, was Russian, and claimed it issued multiple warnings to the pilot to change the plane's course.

The incident led to the death of two Russian officers - Moscow's first combat deaths since it launched a bombing campaign in Syria on Sept 30 - including the pilot and a special forces soldier who participated in a rescue operation.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday sought to ease tensions with Moscow, calling for unity against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and arguing that the shooting of the plane was not an act against Russia.

The Kremlin, however, did not seem to be in a conciliatory mood.

Mr Putin yesterday discussed the jet downing with his security council, particularly the "increased tensions over Syria against the background of Turkey's aggressive and unpredictable actions", his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave government officials two days to draw up a list of ways for Russia to curb commercial ties and investment projects. That included the possible shelving of a multibillion-dollar deal to build a gas pipeline through Turkey that Mr Putin once trumpeted as a welcome alternative route for substantial Russian gas exports to Europe.

Mr Peskov confirmed that the Kremlin had received a proposal from Mr Erdogan to hold a meeting with Mr Putin in Paris next week. But the Russian President has so far refused to respond to Mr Erdogan's initiative, Mr Putin's aide Yuri Ushakov said yesterday.

When asked why, Mr Ushakov said it was because of "Turkey's unwillingness to simply apologise for the incident with the plane".

For his part, Mr Erdogan has dismissed Moscow's threat of economic retaliation against Turkey as "emotional" and "unfitting".

"We very sincerely recommend to Russia not to play with fire," Mr Erdogan told supporters during a speech in north-east Turkey.

"We really attach a lot of importance to our relations with Russia... We don't want these relations to suffer harm in any way," he said, although the comments looked more likely to inflame than quell the dispute.

Mr Erdogan said Turkey downed the jet as a result of what he called the automatic enforcement of the rules of engagement.

Mr Naryshkin said yesterday Moscow had the right to make a military response, calling the incident an "intentional murder of our soldiers".

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said yesterday that Ankara has crossed the line by shooting down the Russian warplane and warned the incident could severely undermine Turkey's interests.

"We believe that the Turkish leadership has crossed the line of what is acceptable," Mr Lavrov said at the start of talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem in Moscow.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'No apology, so Putin refuses to contact Turkish President'. Print Edition | Subscribe