Er­do­gan warns Moscow not to ‘play with fire’

Er­do­gan warns Moscow not to ‘play with fire’, seeks Putin meet­ing

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

MOSCOW: Moscow slapped sanc­tions on Ankara yes­ter­day as the war of words over a downed Rus­sian war­plane es­ca­lated, with Turk­ish strong­man Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan warn­ing Rus­sia not to “play with fire”. Rus­sia an­nounced it was halt­ing a visafree regime for Turk­ish visi­tors, af­ter threat­en­ing a raft of re­tal­ia­tory eco­nomic mea­sures to pun­ish the NATO mem­ber state. Tues­day’s in­ci­dent has sent re­crim­i­na­tions fly­ing be­tween two ri­val play­ers in the Syr­ian war just as coun­tries such as France are push­ing for a broader coali­tion to try to de­feat the Is­lamic State group.

“We ad­vise Rus­sia not to play with fire,” Er­do­gan said in a speech in Ankara, lash­ing out at Rus­sia’s re­sponse to the down­ing as well as its sup­port of the regime of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad. Er­do­gan nev­er­the­less said he wanted a direct meet­ing with Rus­sian coun­ter­part Vladimir Putin when the two lead­ers are in Paris next week for the UN cli­mate sum­mit. But Moscow re­sponded coolly, say­ing Tur­key has yet to apol­o­gize for shoot­ing down the jet on the Syr­ian border. Tur­key says the Su-24 war­plane strayed into its airspace and ig­nored re­peated warn­ings but Rus­sia in­sisted it did not cross from Syria.

‘Crossed the Line’ It is thought to be the first down­ing of a Rus­sian plane by a NATO mem­ber in more than half a cen­tury. One of the pi­lots was shot dead in Syria af­ter parachut­ing out of the burn­ing plane while the sec­ond was found safe and sound, but one Rus­sian sol­dier was killed in a res­cue op­er­a­tion. Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said Tur­key had “crossed the line of what is ac­cept­able” and warned the in­ci­dent could se­verely un­der­mine both its na­tional and re­gional in­ter­ests.

Moscow has ruled out any mil­i­tary re­sponse, but has pledged broad mea­sures tar­get­ing en­tire sec­tors of the Turk­ish econ­omy in­clud­ing tourism, agri­cul­ture and pos­si­bly key en­ergy projects. Lavrov said Turk­ish na­tion­als would re­quire visas from Jan 1, af­ter Putin this week warned cit­i­zens not to travel to Tur­key - a hugely pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for Rus­sians. “Rus­sia is quite con­cerned with in­creas­ing ter­ror­ist threats in the Repub­lic of Tur­key,” Lavrov added, af­ter a spate of bloody at­tacks blamed on Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists there.

Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev on Thurs­day gave min­is­ters two days to work out a plan to curb co­op­er­a­tion with Turk­ish com­pa­nies af­ter Rus­sia said it would tighten checks on food im­ports over al­leged safety stan­dard vi­o­la­tions. Moscow has also hinted the reprisals could hit two ma­jor projects with Tur­key - a planned gas pipe­line and a nu­clear power plant. The two coun­tries have built trade ties in re­cent years and Rus­sia is al­ready en­ergy-poor Tur­key’s big­gest oil and gas sup­plier.

But they are on op­pos­ing sides in the Syr­ian con­flict, with Ankara back­ing rebels fight­ing to top­ple As­sad while Moscow is one of his last re­main­ing al­lies. Er­do­gan, whose rul­ing Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP) won a land­slide elec­tion vic­tory ear­lier this month, said Tur­key did not “de­lib­er­ately” shoot down the plane. He dis­missed Putin’s crit­i­cism of the in­ci­dent as “un­ac­cept­able”, not­ing that Rus­sian planes had twice vi­o­lated Turk­ish air space in Oc­to­ber.

He also at­tacked the Krem­lin’s pol­icy in Syria af­ter it launched air strikes in Septem­ber, say­ing it was back­ing the “mur­derer” As­sad and not tar­get­ing IS ji­hadists. Er­do­gan has al­ready ac­cused Putin of snub­bing a phone call af­ter the in­ci­dent, but has re­fused to bow to Rus­sian de­mands for an apol­ogy.

‘Com­mon Enemy’ Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told re­porters the Turks had asked for a meet­ing be­tween the two lead­ers but said: “The pres­i­dent has been told about this re­quest... That’s all I can say.” The height­ened rhetoric came af­ter Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu had sought to ease the ten­sions and ap­pealed for the world to unite against IS, in an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished in The Times news­pa­per. “While the mea­sures to de­fend our ter­ri­tory will re­main in place, Tur­key will work with Rus­sia and our al­lies to calm ten­sions,” Davu­to­glu wrote.

The down­ing of the plane has high­lighted the dif­fi­culty of forg­ing con­sen­sus on Syria but Davu­to­glu said the world should unite against a “com­mon enemy”. “The fo­cus should be to tackle, head-on, the in­ter­na­tional threat that Daesh (IS) poses, se­cur­ing the fu­ture of Syria and seek­ing a so­lu­tion to the cur­rent refugee cri­sis.”

But the Krem­lin said Western pow­ers were not ready to line up with Rus­sia to fight the IS group. “At the mo­ment, un­for­tu­nately, our part­ners are not ready to work within the for­mat of a sin­gle coali­tion,” Peskov told re­porters. His com­ments came a day af­ter Putin and French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande agreed to co­or­di­nate strikes against IS, al­though dif­fer­ences re­mained over the fu­ture of As­sad. — AFP

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