Putin launches tirade against Turkey

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at his annual news conference yesterday that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group was a "secondary issue" in Syria as it was created as "cannon fodder under Islamist slogans" to protect the economic interest
Russian President Vladimir Putin said at his annual news conference yesterday that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group was a "secondary issue" in Syria as it was created as "cannon fodder under Islamist slogans" to protect the economic interests of other players.PHOTO: REUTERS

Leader rules out reconciliation, says downing of Russian plane was a bid to impress the US

MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin fired off a tirade against Turkey yesterday, ruling out any reconciliation with its leaders and accusing Ankara of shooting down a Russian warplane to impress the United States.

In comments littered with crude language, Mr Putin dismissed the possibility that the downing of the warplane over the Turkish-Syrian border last month was an accident, calling it a "hostile act".

"We find it difficult, if not impossible, to come to an agreement with the current leadership of Turkey," the Kremlin strongman said at his annual news conference with almost 1,400 reporters present.

"On the state level, I don't see any prospects of improving relations with the Turkish leadership," he said of his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ties between Russia and Nato member Turkey have been severely strained since the Nov 24 incident, which led to the deaths of two Russian military officers.

IN PRAISE OF DONALD TRUMP

He is a very outstanding man, unquestionably talented. He is the absolute leader of the presidential race.

MR VLADIMIR PUTIN, on US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump

PROUD FATHER

They are taking the first steps in their careers, but are making good progress. They are not involved in business or politics... They have never been educated anywhere except Russia. I am proud of them, they continue to study and are working. My daughters speak three European languages fluently.

MR PUTIN, on his daughters Maria, 30, and Katerina, 29

Turkey has said the Russian jet strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, but Moscow insists it never left Syrian territory.

Mr Putin said he did not rule out the possibility that Ankara was acting with tacit approval from Washington, possibly so that the US would look the other way to let Turkey "go onto Iraqi territory and occupy part of it".

"I don't know if there was such a trade-off, maybe there was," he said. "If somebody in the Turkish leadership decided to lick the Americans in one place... I don't know, if they did the right thing."

But he said Russia wanted to develop relations with the US, irrespective of who will become the next American president. He also described US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump as a talented and outstanding man.

"He is a very outstanding man, unquestionably talented," Mr Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying after the press conference. "He is the absolute leader of the presidential race."

Mr Putin said Russia would not be deterred by Turkey's downing of the plane, adding that Moscow's operations in Syria are not a major burden on the Budget.

"This doesn't put any significant (pressure) on the Budget," he said. "It's hard to imagine better training. We can conduct training for quite a long time there without significant damage to our Budget."

Mr Putin also accused Turkey's leaders of overseeing a "creeping Islamisation" of the country "which would probably cause (modern Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal) Ataturk to turn in his grave". Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan have been locked in a war of words over the plane's downing, and Moscow has accused Mr Erdogan's family of engaging in oil-smuggling operations in Syria.

Mr Putin went as far as to say yesterday that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group was a "secondary issue" in Syria as it was created as "cannon fodder under Islamist slogans" to protect the economic interests of other players.

In separate comments regarding the scandal-hit Fifa president Sepp Blatter, Mr Putin said he was "a very respected person" who deserved to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr Putin also targeted critics who allege that corruption may have been behind the soccer governing body's decision to award Russia the right to host the World Cup in 2018.

"We know firmly one thing - that we received the right to host the World Cup in an absolutely honest and competitive fight," the Russian leader said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'Putin launches tirade against Turkey'. Print Edition | Subscribe