Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin fired off an angry tirade against Turkey today, 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, 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. “On the state level, I don’t see any prospects of improving relations with the Turkish leadership,” he said of Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ties between Russia and NATO member Turkey have been severely strained since the November 24 incident, which led to deaths of two Russian military officers. Turkey has said the Russian jet strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, but Moscow insists it never left Syrian territory.
Putin said he did not rule out that Ankara was acting with tacit approval from Washington, possibly so that the United States 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,” Putin said. “If somebody in the Turkish leadership decided to l ck the Americans in one place… I don’t know, if they did the right thing,” he added. “Did they think we would run away now? Russia is not that kind of country,” Putin said, speaking of Moscow’s increased military presence in Syria.
“If Turkey flew there all the time before, breaching Syrian airspace, well, let’s see how they fly now.” 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.”
Putin and Erdogan have been locked in a war of words over the plane downing, and Moscow has accused Erdogan’s family of engaging in oil smuggling operations in Syria. Today, Putin went as far as to say that the Islamic State group was a “secondary issue” in Syria as it was created as “cannon fodder under Islamist slogans” to protect economic interests of other players, although he did not name Turkey.
Putin said that had the downing of the plane been an accident, Turkish leaders should have tried to “pick up the phone and explain themselves”. Erdogan attempted to call Putin on the day of the incident, but the Kremlin ignored his request to speak to the Russian leader.