Turks accustomed to suffering, Erdogan says on possible Russian gas cut

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkish people have not had the comfort afforded by gas all their lives, after being asked the possibility of Russia cutting off Turkey’s natural gas supply in reaction to Turkey downing its jet.

Speaking on the presidential plane after attending a climate conference in Paris on his way to Qatar on Tuesday, Erdogan claimed Turks “are accustomed to suffering” in response to a question on the effects of a potential throttling of gas by Russia.

Erdogan told reporters on his plane: “As you know, we [Turkey] have not lived with natural gas our whole lives. We all know how long it has been since we began using natural gas.”

“Moreover we will not be doomed if we cannot acquire Russian gas,” he said, adding Turkey buys natural gas from various countries.

Turkey imports 95 percent of its energy from abroad and meets 55 percent — or 27 billion cubic meters (bcm) — of its natural gas consumption and 30 percent of its oil needs from Russia. Additionally, the contractors of Turkey’s first nuclear energy plant in Mersin’s Akkuyu district — whose reactor is due to be built in 2016 — are two subsidiaries of Russia’s state-owned Rosatom.

Turkey was hit with a wide range of sanctions by Russia after it shot down a Russian Su-24 jet on Nov. 24 after it violated Turkish airspace for 17 seconds. The incident was recorded as the first downing of a Russian jet by a NATO member country in over half a century.

Turkey insisted the Russian Su-24 was warned 10 times in five minutes before it was shot down, but the Russian Defense Ministry said the downed plane was shot down in Syrian airspace. Moscow is vowing sanctions such as the blocking Turkish agricultural products from entering Russia.

Russia responded harshly, with President Vladimir Putin declaring Russia was “stabbed in the back by the accomplices of terrorists,” referring to Turkey’s alleged underhanded oil dealings with the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Obama met with Erdogan on Tuesday on the sidelines of the global climate talks in Paris, a week after the Turkish military shot down the Russian Su-24.

The US president urged both Turkey and Russia to “de-escalate” their conflict and not get distracted from the campaign against ISIL. He also appeared to be supporting Turkey, saying it is Turkey’s right to protect its borders and airspace and expressed the US’s commitment to “Turkey’s security and its sovereignty.”

Erdogan’s remarks come just days after he challenged Putin to prove he is buying and selling oil from ISIL, vowing to resign if Putin can validate his claims.

“If he does, I will not stay in this post. I am asking Putin: Would you [stay in your post if you fail to prove these claims]?” Erdogan told reporters after the Paris conference on climate change on Monday.