Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an on Thursday (26 November) dismissed “emotional” and “unfitting” suggestions that projects with Russia could be cancelled following Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane near the Syrian border.
In an escalating war of words, he responded to Russian accusations that Turkey has been buying oil and gas from Islamic State in Syria by accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers, which include Moscow, of being the real source of the group’s financial and military power.
The downing of the jet on Tuesday (24 November) was one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a NATO member and Russia for half a century, and further complicated international efforts to battle Islamic State militants in Syria.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered his government yesterday to draw up measures that would include freezing some joint investment projects and restricting food imports from Turkey.
Turkish Stream frozen?
Russia’s Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev stated that the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project falls under the restrictive measures against Turkey.
Construction on Turkish Stream was scheduled to begin in June, but was postponed pending a formal agreement. According the Russian Energy Ministry, Russia and Turkey were expected to sign the pipeline agreement no earlier than December 2015.
The restrictions against Ankara may also include the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, which is currently under construction in the Turkish province of Mersin, Alexey Ulyukayev said.
Russia and Turkey signed an agreement in 2010 to construct and operate Turkey’s first nuclear power plant at the Akkuyu site.
The minister also noted that restrictions in aerial communication may include regular and charter flights.
Russian restrictive measures against Turkey reportedly will also include tourism and Turkish food imports to Russia.
“Joint projects may be halted, ties could be cut’? Are such approaches fitting for politicians,” Erdo?an questioned in a speech to local officials in the capital Ankara.
“First the politicians and our militaries should sit down and talk about where errors were made and then focus on overcoming those errors on both sides. But instead, if we make emotional statements like this, that wouldn’t be right.”
Erdo?an said the Russian jet was shot down as an “automatic reaction” to the violation of Turkish air space, in line with standing instructions given to the military.
Those instructions were a separate issue to disagreements with Russia over Syria policy, he said, adding Ankara would continue to support moderate rebels in Syria and Turkmen fighters battling President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia insists its jet never left Syrian airspace.
On Wednesday, Medvedev alleged that Turkish officials were benefiting from Islamic State oil sales, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was no secret that “terrorists” use Turkish territory.
“Shame on you. It’s clear where Turkey buys its oil and gas … Those who claim we are buying oil from Daesh like this must prove their claims. Nobody can slander this country,” Erdo?an said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
“If you are seeking the source of weaponry and financial power of Daesh, the first place to look is the Assad regime and countries that act with it,” he said.
A more diplomatic tone
In an op-ed published by The Times on Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu choses a more diplomatic language to address the need to defuse tensions following the downing of the Russian jet.
Davuto?lu calls the jet “unidentified” in an attempt to counter Russian positions that this had been a planned act.
“The downing of an unidentified jet in Turkish airspace was not – and is not – an act against a specific country. Turkey took action, based on standing rules of engagement, to protect the integrity of its sovereign territory. The necessary discussions are now taking place. While the measures to defend our territory will remain in place, Turkey will work with Russia and our allies to calm tensions,” Davuto?lu writes.
He also appeals for a broad coalition against Islamic State.
“We must not be distracted from the cause that unites us […] This is the time to stand firm against Daesh. Collective action that harnesses the varying strengths of the US, the EU, Russia, Turkey and others can, and will, turn the tide”, he writes.