Russian-Turkish tensions heat up over downed warplane

Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the despatch of an advanced weapons system to Russia's Khmeimim air base in Syria's Latakia province.
Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the despatch of an advanced weapons system to Russia's Khmeimim air base in Syria's Latakia province. Alexei Nikolskyi/Sputnik/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW — Turkey and Russia traded newly heated barbs and threats Thursday as the fallout from Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane threatened to lead to a wholesale breach in the countries’ relations.

Prime Minister Dmitry A. Medvedev gave government officials two days to draw up a list of ways for Russia to curb commercial ties and investment projects. That included the possible shelving of a multibillion-dollar deal to build a gas pipeline through Turkey that President Vladimir V. Putin once trumpeted as a welcome alternative route for substantial Russian gas exports to Europe.

Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stoked the confrontation by hurling insults at each other.


The standoff between the two proud, pugnacious leaders boded ill for the mission of President François Hollande of France, who arrived in Moscow to hold talks over dinner with Putin as part of his effort after the Paris attacks to cement an international coalition to confront the Islamic State.

Right after Turkey shot down the Russian warplane on Tuesday, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace, senior officials in both Moscow and Ankara vowed that they wanted to limit any larger conflict. Given that Turkey is a member of NATO, any military confrontation risks pulling in its Western allies.

But the economic, geographic, and historically competitive ties that bind the two faded empires are facing new strains.

At the very least, the tension will retard chances of resolving the bloody war in Syria.

On Thursday, Putin accused Turkey of ruining diplomatic relations between the two countries by refusing to apologize for what he said was a clear offense. Erdogan asserted that his country would shoot down the Russian plane all over again under the same circumstances.

Putin repeated his accusation that the downing of the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 was “a stab in the back” and reiterated Russia’s position that the plane was brought down over Syria, not Turkey.


“We have still not heard any comprehensible apologies from the Turkish political leaders, or any offers to compensate for the damage caused, or promises to punish the criminals for their crime,” Putin said at the Kremlin, addressing 15 new foreign ambassadors who were presenting their credentials. His remarks were carried live on national television.

“One gets the impression that the Turkish leaders are deliberately leading Russian-Turkish relations into a gridlock,” he said, “and we are sorry to see this.”

Leaders in Turkey said no apology would be forthcoming. “Faced with the same violation today, Turkey would give the same response,” Erdogan told a group of officials in Ankara.

Even before any formal plans for economic sanctions were drawn up, Russia was already retaliating. Moscow has a long history of suddenly discovering faults with the goods and services of other nations when diplomatic relations sour.

Hundreds of trucks bearing Turkish fruits and vegetables and other products were stacking up at the Georgian border with Russia, Russian news media reported, as inspections slowed to a crawl and Russian officials suggested there might be a terrorist threat from the goods.

“This is only natural in light of Turkey’s unpredictable actions,” Dmitry S. Peskov, the presidential spokesman, told reporters.

In the Krasnodar region, a group of 39 Turkish businessmen attending an agriculture exhibition were detained for entering Russia on tourist rather than business visas — a common practice — and were slated for deportation, according to a report on the website of the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper.


Government officials announced that a special year of cultural exchanges slated for all of 2016 would be canceled.