The Kremlin issued economic sanctions against Turkey on Saturday over the shootdown of a Russian warplane, brushing off a fence-mending bid by Turkey’s president who expressed regret over the incident and proposed a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris next week.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Saturday that the president, in issuing the stiff economic penalties, “is mobilized, fully mobilized, mobilized to the extent that circumstances call for.”
Peskov called the behavior of the Turkish air force “absolute madness” and said Ankara’s handling of the crisis reminded him of the “theater of the absurd,” Reuters reports.
“Nobody has the right to traitorously shoot down a Russian plane from behind,” Peskov told Russia’s “News on Saturday” TV program, describing as “cartoonish” the evidence by Turkey that purports to show the Russian warplane had violated Turkish airspace.
While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not apologize Saturday, he did offer his first expression of regret since Turkish F-16s shot down the Russian Su-24 jet Tuesday on grounds of violating Turkey’s airspace despite repeated warnings.
“We are truly saddened by this incident,” Erdogan told supporters in the western city of Balikesir. “We wish it hadn’t happened as such, but unfortunately such a thing has happened. I hope that something like this doesn’t occur again.” It was the first time in half a century that a NATO member shot down a Russian plane.
Although Russia vehemently denies its plane was over Turkish territory, Erdogan said neither Turkey nor Russia should allow the incident to escalate or lead to “saddening consequences.”
He stopped short, however, of offering an outright apology to Moscow. “If we allow our sovereign rights to be violated … then the territory would no longer be our territory,” he said.
On Saturday, only hours after Erdogan spoke, the Kremin announced its list of economic sanctions, including a suspension of visa-free travel privileges for Turks visiting Russia, an end to chartered flights from Russia to Turkey and a ban on Russian tourism companies selling vacation packages that would include a stay in Turkey.
Moscow had already signaled a get-tough policy by leaving Turkish trucks stranded at the border and confiscating large quantities of Turkish food imports. In addition, at least 26 Turkish businessmen were taken into police custody in Russia’s Black Sea city of Krasnodar on Wednesday, according to Turkish diplomatic sources, the Anadolu news agency reported. Five returned to Turkey on Saturday.
Turkey has since issued a travel warning urging its nationals to delay non-urgent and unnecessary travel to Russia, saying Turkish travelers were facing “problems” in the country.” On Friday, Erdogan went so far as to warn that Moscow “is playing with fire to go as far as mistreating our citizens who have gone to Russia,” Reuters reported.
On the military front, Russia has deployed long-range S-400 air defense missile systems to a Russian air base in Syria just 30 miles south of the border with Turkey to help protect Russian warplanes. The Russian military warned it would shoot down any aerial target that would pose a potential threat to its planes.
Erdogan’s peace gesture on Saturday was the second time in two days that he has sought to lower the temperature with Moscow.
“Turkey did not down the Russian plane on purpose,” he said on Friday, according to the Daily Sabah. “It is nothing but an automatic reaction to a border breach, an exercise of the rules of engagement.”
The Turkish leader also renewed his call for a meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the climate conference in Paris, saying it would be an opportunity to overcome tensions.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said he hoped a meeting between Erdogan and Putin would take place in Paris. “In such situations it is important to keep the channels of communication open,” he said.
But Putin, who has called the shoot down a “treacherous stab in the back,” has refused to take Erdogan’s phone calls.
Asked why Putin hasn’t picked up the phone to respond to Erdogan’s two calls, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said that “we have seen that the Turkish side hasn’t been ready to offer an elementary apology over the plane incident,” the Associated Press reports.
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