Russia targets Turkish economy over downed warplane

26th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Thursday pledged broad retaliatory measures against Turkey's economy in revenge for the downing of one of its warplanes, as recriminations between Moscow and Ankara reached fever pitch.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan angrily rebuffed his Russian counterpart's demands for an apology and said Vladimir Putin had snubbed a phone call from him after Tuesday's incident.

The downing of the plane on the Syrian border has raised fears it could fuel a wider geopolitical conflict, and highlighted the difficulty of forging consensus on the fate of Syria as French President Francois Hollande held talks with Putin in Moscow.

While Russia ruled out any military retaliation against NATO member Turkey over the plane incident, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave his ministers two days to work out "a system of response measures" in the economic and humanitarian spheres.

He said the punitive steps for what he termed "this act of aggression" could include halting joint economic projects, restricting financial and trade transactions and changing customs duties.

Measures could also target transport and tourism after Putin told citizens not to travel to Turkey, a hugely popular tourist destination. The foreign ministry urged those already in Turkey to return home due to "existing terrorist threats".

Russia also tightened control over Turkish food imports over alleged safety standard violations.

Economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev did not rule out that the measures could hit two major projects with Turkey -- the planned Turk Stream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant -- in a move that looked set to rattle cages in energy-poor Turkey.

Separately, Turkey on Thursday summoned the Russian ambassador to Ankara over an "unacceptable" violent demonstration over the plane shooting that took place outside the Turkish embassy in Moscow, the foreign ministry said.

- 'Shame on you' -

Ahead of the Hollande talks on the Syrian crisis, Putin and Erdogan traded barbs, with the Russian leader saying he was waiting for an apology and Erdogan ruling out any such move.

"We are under the impression that the Turkish leadership is deliberately pushing Russian-Turkish relations into deadlock. We regret that," said Putin.

He flayed Turkey for "treacherous stabs in the back" and accused its leadership of buttressing Islamic State jihadists financially and militarily.

Erdogan said Putin had refused to answer his call and insisted his country did not buy any oil from the Islamic State (IS) group.

"Shame on you. Those who claim we buy oil from Daesh are obliged to prove it. If not, you are a slanderer," he said in a speech, using an alternative name for IS.

"I think if there is a party that needs to apologise, it is not us," he told CNN separately.

In a later interview with France 24 television Erdogan however conceded that Turkey "would have acted differently" if it had known the jet was Russian.

Analysts said that while both countries can ill-afford a permanent rupture in ties, the clash of egos between the two leaders could further damage relations.

"Their desire not to lose face has the potential to weaken otherwise pragmatic calculations to contain the crisis," said Anthony Skinner, director of political risk at Verisk Maplecroft consultancy.

- Moscow targets rebels -

The shooting down of the aircraft is thought to be the first downing of a Russian plane by a NATO member since 1952 when US pilots brought down a Soviet plane near Vladivostok during the Korean War.

Tuesday's incident led to the deaths of one of the two pilots and of a soldier who took part in a failed rescue operation -- Moscow's first combat losses since the start of its Syria campaign.

On Thursday, Moscow said its forces had wiped out Syrian rebel groups operating in the area where its jet was brought down, unleashing a huge bombardment after rescuing the second pilot.

Moscow also said it had now stationed its most hi-tech missile defence system at its airbase in Syria.

Turkey insists its forces repeatedly warned the Russian aircraft, an assertion backed up by the United States, which said however that it was not yet clear which side of the border the jet was on when it was targeted.

Some observers believe Ankara downed the jet out of anger over Moscow's strikes against ethnic Turkmen in Syria, a minority it views as an ally in its struggle against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Moscow, an Assad ally, claims the plane never entered Turkish airspace and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has branded the incident a "planned provocation."

The tensions have threatened to derail Hollande's efforts to cobble together a broad anti-IS coalition in response to the November 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead and were claimed by the jihadist group.

© 2015 AFP

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