Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey appears to be a planned provocation. Turkey has said it would like to avoid escalation.
Russia will “seriously reconsider” relations with Turkey after one of its warplanes was downed by Turkish F-16s, Lavrov said on Wednesday, describing the incident a “planned provocation.”
Lavrov said Russia had no plans to go to war against NATO’s second largest army, even as its military announced it would station a guided missile cruiser in the eastern Mediterranean and deploy its advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missile system to Syria.
Russia will also have fighter jets accompany its bombers, which Moscow said will continue to bomb rebel positions on the Turkish-Syrian border.
Russia maintains the jet was shot down over Syrian airspace and landed 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles) inside the Syrian border. Russia has challenged Turkey’s claim that it warned the jet 10 times in five minutes before it entered Turkish airspace for 17 seconds.
Russian moves signal potential for serious escalation in the event of another incident, with both sides seemingly intent on maintaining their Syria policy.
Turn down the heat
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu tried to ease tensions with words on Wednesday, calling Russia a “friend and neighbor” at a party meeting just a day after the Turkish air force shot down a Russian jet on the border with Syria as it was bombing Ankara-backed rebels, including ethnic Turkmen.
Davutoglu said Russia was an “important partner and tops the list of countries with which we have shown great sensitivity in building ties.”
Turkey has defended its right to protect its airspace even as criticism rolls in that it could have shown more discretion.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara did not want to escalate the situation, but at the same time he said Turkey would maintain its Syria policy.
Erdogan said Turkey would defend its borders and back “brothers” in Syria, a reference to ethnic Turkmen rebels under assault recently by Russian and regime air attacks.
Russia and Turkey were already on opposing sides of the conflict in Syria, but have traditionally been able to compartmentalize their relationship by working on areas of common interest. This is particularly true in trade and energy as Turkey gets some 60 percent of its gas and 35 percent of its oil from Russia.
However, Russian actions and words suggest bilateral relations may not easily overcome the most recent crisis over Syria. Russian officials have urged Russians to avoid travel to Turkey, suggested lucrative construction contracts could be closed to Turkey’s large contracting industry, and has suspended military cooperation, among other measures.
“Our attitude towards Turkish people has not changed,” said Lavrov, who canceled Wednesday’s planned visit to Ankara after the incident. “We have questions only about the Turkish leadership.”
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday accused Turkey’s leaders of promoting “Islamization,” a trend he said was a bigger problem than downing a jet.
Impact on Syria peace talks
The downed jet heightened geopolitical tensions across the region, threatening to jeopardize fledgling cooperation between the West and Russia against the self-styled “Islamic State” group and talks on a political transition in Syria.
Lavrov said the incident would likely impact Syria transition talks, which gained renewed impetus following Russia’s military intervention and a terror threat in Europe.
Turkey’s role in Syria looks to be increasingly questioned, with Russia now openly accusing Turkey of backing terrorist groups in Syria, buying oil from the “Islamic State,” and not doing enough to stop foreign fighters.
In a move that appeared targeted at Turkey, Lavrov said Russia would ask the UN Security Council to examine how terrorist groups are financed.
Lavrov also called for the closure of the Syrian-Turkish border, which has been used to funnel men, weapons and supplies to all stripes of the Syrian opposition and IS.
cw/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)