Turkey seeks to ease tensions after downing of Russian warplane

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during the G20 summit.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during the G20 summit. PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (AFP,REUTERS) - Turkey sought to play down tensions with Russia on Wednesday (Nov 25) after Turkish military's downing of a Russian warplane on the Syria border sparked fears among Nato allies of a wider conflict.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to always defend Turkish borders but appeared to want to avoid provoking further one of the biggest crises between Russia and a Nato member in recent years.

"We have no intention to escalate this incident. We are just defending our security and the rights of our brothers," Erdogan said in a televised speech in Istanbul.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his government did not want to fuel tensions with "our friend" Russia.

"We have no intention to strain (ties) with the Russian Federation," Davutoglu told ruling party members in parliament. "Russia is our friend and our neighbour."

Turkey's F-16 jets on Tuesday shot down the Russian plane under its rules of engagement on the Syrian border, prompting an angry response from Moscow, with President Vladimir Putin warning Ankara it would have serious consequences.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled a scheduled visit to Turkey, while Putin called for Russians not to visit the country.

Davutoglu said the plane that violated Turkish airspace was downed as it was seen as a "threat". But he called for a deescalation in relations with its major trade partner Russia.

"We have very strong economic, commercial and cultural bonds with Russia," he said, adding that communication channels with Moscow were wide open.

But he warned that it was Turkey's "natural right" to protect its borders and national security.

"Turkey does not have an eye on any country's soil," he said. "Targeting Russia or any other country is out of the question."

US President Barack Obama had earlier said Washington's Nato ally Turkey had a right to defend its airspace but said his priority was to make sure the standoff did not escalate.

"Hopefully, this is a moment in which all parties can step back and make a determination as to how their interests are best served," Obama said.

Erdogan and Obama agreed on the need to reduce tensions and prevent a repeat of similar incidents in a phone call late Tuesday, the Turkish presidency said.