Erdogan warns Russia not to ‘play with fire’ as sides trade barbs

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russia on Friday not to “play with fire,” but also said he did not want to harm relations with Moscow.

Although Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave assurances that Russia is not waging a war against Turkey, Moscow announced a number of economic retaliations against Ankara since the downing of the jet on Tuesday. Erdogan called those measures “emotional” and “unfitting.”

During a speech in Bayburt in the Northeast, Erdogan told his supporters, “We very sincerely recommend that Russia not play with fire.”

Putin had asked for an apology from Turkey for downing its jet, but Erdogan earlier said it is Russia that needs to apologize for violating Turkish airspace.

“We truly attach a lot of importance to our relations with Russia. … We don’t want these relations to suffer harm in any way,” said Erdogan on Friday.

In response to Putin’s remarks calling the downing of the jet a “stab in the back,” Erdogan said Turkey has never stabbed anyone in the back and the Turkish nation knows how to fight hand-to-hand with its enemy.

Erdogan stressed Russian jets had violated Turkish airspace before and one of them happened in the Black Sea for 15 minutes and the Russian jets left after repeated warnings, without elaborating further. He also said Russian jets had violated Turkish airspace at the Syrian border twice before, once on Oct. 3 and the other on Oct. 4. When the Russians were warned about the incidents, they referred to a strategic cooperation between Turkey and Russia, according to Erdogan. “But this doesn’t allow them to violate our sovereign rights,” he added.

Erdogan said he had called Putin when the Russian airspace violations took place in October and warned him what they are doing at the border is “ugly.” “Despite the warnings, they violated our airspace for the third time [at the Syrian border]” Erdogan said.

President Erdogan also stressed he had spoken to Putin during the G-20 summit in Antalya about the issue and Putin had said “You need to accept this as Russia is a guest.” In response, Erdogan said Turkey cannot receive a guest without invitation.

“We repeatedly asked them what they are doing there [in Syria]. There is an illegal state in Syria,” said Erdogan.

He also stressed Turkey doesn’t need to buy oil from terrorist organizations, as suggested by Putin earlier this week that Turkey is helping the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to sell oil and make money. Erdogan called the allegation “slander.”

Referring to Putin’s remarks that “those who have double standards against terrorism are playing with fire,” Erdogan said he completely agrees with Putin. He stated Russia is providing support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, which has killed 380,000 people. He also said launching military operation against moderate Syrian opposition forces by pretending to hit ISIL militants is also playing with fire.

Erdogan also criticized Russia for tormenting Turkish citizens in their country, saying that is also playing with fire. The Turkish president also spoke up against Russia for hitting trucks inside Syria near the border, saying the trucks were there to carry humanitarian aid.

In an interview with the France 24 TV channel, Erdogan said he had called Putin to discuss how the downing of the jet happened, but he said Putin did not return his call.

Erdogan will be able to speak with Putin at a climate summit in Paris next week, a discussion that would be welcomed by the US and the EU, both of which fear the spat has distracted from the battle against the terrorist ISIL in Syria.

Putin’s aide Yuri Ushakov said on Friday the Russian president has so far refused to contact Erdogan because Ankara does not want to apologize for shooting down the Russian SU-24 jet.

Turkey says it shot down the jet due to the automatic enforcement of the rules of engagement over airspace violation after the jet flew into its airspace for 17 seconds despite repeated warnings.

Russia’s lower house speaker Sergei Naryshkin said on Friday Moscow had the right to make a military response, calling the incident an “international murder of our soldiers.”

Naryshkin said Moscow had allocated additional military resources on Thursday to boost the security of Russian jets. Russia deployed an S-400 advanced missile defense system in Syria after its jet was downed by Turkey.

Putin also had some harsh remarks for Turkey, calling the downing of its jet “thoughtless” and “brutal.”

Putin dismissed the Turkish claim of intrusion and held the US responsible for failing to rein in its ally, saying Russia had informed the US about its military flights in the area in advance. On Thursday, the Russian president said the US knew the flight path of the Russian jet downed by Turkey.

After Russia entered the fray in Syria, the US and Russia signed an agreement to avoid any likely unwanted confrontation over Syrian airspace as the US military continues to pound ISIL in Syria.

“The American side that leads the coalition that Turkey belongs to knew about the location and time of our planes’ flights and we were hit exactly there and at that time,” Putin said during a press conference in Kremlin on Thursday.

After meeting with French President Francois Hollande, Putin said he was sorry to hear that Erdogan sees no need to apologize. “For us, Turkey was not just a neighbor, but a friendly state, almost an ally,” he said, adding it is very sad to see all of it being destroyed “so thoughtlessly and brutally.”

“Russia will protect its warplanes from now on with long-range S-400 air defense missiles deployed at its air base in Syria, as well as escort fighters and electronic countermeasures,” Putin said.

Hollande described the event as a “serious incident, obviously regrettable” that underlined the need for closer coordination between nations fighting ISIL.

“It is crucial in that period to avoid any risk, any incident and prevent any escalation,” Hollande said. “The only goal we must have is fighting Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIL] and neutralizing the terrorists. There is no other goal.”

ISIL has claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks against both countries’ citizens in recent weeks: the Nov. 13 shootings and suicide bombings in Paris that killed 130 people and the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that claimed 224 lives.

Cavusoglu calls for using diplomatic channels

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said Turkey wants to leave behind the tension with Moscow over the Russian jet incident through diplomatic channels.

Visiting Azerbaijan on Friday, Cavusoglu called on Russia to defuse the tension between the countries via “level-headed statements and acts.”

Cavusoglu said Turkey does not want any tension and would like to solve this problem via diplomacy. “We expect the same from our friend and neighbor Russia,” Cavusoglu said.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN

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