Turk­ish-Rus­sian re­la­tions hit bot­tom

An­gry Er­do­gan warns Moscow not to in­flame volatile sit­u­a­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD - DAREN BUT­LER and MARIA TSVETKOVA

IS­TAN­BUL/ MOSCOW: Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan warned Moscow not to “play with fire” yes­ter­day, cit­ing re­ports Turk­ish busi­ness­men had been de­tained in Rus­sia, while Moscow re­sponded with tighter visa reg­u­la­tions.

Re­la­tions be­tween the for­mer Cold War an­tag­o­nists are at their low­est in re­cent mem­ory af­ter Tur­key shot down a Rus­sian jet near the Syr­ian border on Tues­day. Rus­sia has threat­ened eco­nomic re­tal­i­a­tion, a re­sponse Er­do­gan has dis­missed as emo­tional and in­deco­rous.

The in­ci­dent has proved a dis­trac­tion for the West, which is look­ing to build sup­port for the US-led fight against Is­lamic State in Syria. The nearly fiveyear-old Syr­ian civil war has been com­pli­cated by Rus­sian air strikes in de­fence of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad.

Tur­key, which has long sought As­sad’s oust­ing, has ex­ten­sive trade ties with Moscow, which could come un­der strain. Er­do­gan con­demned re­ports that some Turk­ish busi­ness­men had been de­tained for visa ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties while at­tend­ing a trade fair in Rus­sia.

“It is play­ing with fire to go as far as mis­treat­ing our cit­i­zens who have gone to Rus­sia,” Er­do­gan told supporters dur­ing a speech in Bay­burt, in north-east Tur­key. “We really at­tach a lot of im­por­tance to our re­la­tions with Rus­sia... We don’t want th­ese re­la­tions to suf­fer harm in any way.”

He said he may speak with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin at a cli­mate sum­mit in Paris next week. Putin has so far re­fused to con­tact Er­do­gan be­cause Ankara does not want to apol­o­gise for the down­ing of the jet, a Putin aide said.

Er­do­gan has said Tur­key de­serves an apol­ogy be­cause its air space was vi­o­lated.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said yes­ter­day Moscow would sus­pend its visa-free regime with Tur­key as of Jan­uary 1, which could af­fect Tur­key’s tourism in­dus­try. Tur­key’s sea­side re­sorts are among the most pop­u­lar hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions for Rus­sians, who make up Tur­key’s largest num­ber of tourist ar­rivals af­ter Ger­many.

Rus­sia’s agri­cul­ture min­istry has al­ready has in­creased checks on food and agri­cul­ture im­ports from Tur­key, in one of the first pub­lic moves to curb trade. Er­do­gan said that Tur­key did not go look­ing to shoot down a Rus­sian jet, but acted af­ter it strayed into Turk­ish air space. It was, he said, an “au­to­matic re­ac­tion” to stand­ing in­struc­tions given to the mil­i­tary.

Moscow in­sists the jet never left Syr­ian air space.

Lower house speaker Sergei Naryshkin called the in­ci­dent an “in­ten­tional mur­der” of its sol­diers, say­ing Rus­sia had the right to mount a mil­i­tary re­sponse.

The in­ci­dent has wors­ened the out­look for the Syr­ian peace process, dash­ing re­cent op­ti­mism fol­low­ing the Group of 20 meet­ing in Tur­key where US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama held an in­for­mal meet­ing with Putin.

“It cer­tainly did not help,” UN en­voy Staffan de Mis­tura said.

How­ever, Putin did ask France to draw up a map of where groups fight­ing Is­lamic State mil­i­tants op­er­ate in Syria in or­der not to bomb them, France’s for­eign min­is­ter said.

Tur­key and Rus­sia have also traded blows over Is­lamic State, with each side ac­cus­ing the other of be­ing soft on ter­ror­ism. Lavrov, Moscow’s for­eign min­is­ter, said yes­ter­day Rus­sia had “more and more ques­tions” about Ankara’s com­mit­ment to erad­i­cat­ing ter­ror­ism.

Er­do­gan has re­jected Rus­sia’s ac­cu­sa­tions that Tur­key is buy­ing oil and gas from Is­lamic State, call­ing it “slan­der” and say­ing Tur­key only made pur­chases from known sources.

He also ac­cused Rus­sian com­pa­nies and Is­lamic State of sell­ing oil to the Syr­ian regime.

Separately, war­planes be­lieved to be Rus­sian car­ried out sev­eral air strikes on a Syr­ian town near the Turk­ish border yes­ter­day, a mon­i­tor­ing group said, one of sev­eral re­ported close to the bound­ary this week. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: EPA

RAGE: Turk­ish pro­test­ers shout slogans against Rus­sia as they hold a pic­ture of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin read­ing ‘mur­der on Putin’ dur­ing a protest against Rus­sia af­ter Fri­day prayers in Is­tan­bul, Tur­key, yes­ter­day.

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