Kremlin boss ratchets up the rhetoric after the shooting down of one of his bombers.
If anyone thought Vladimir Putin would be in a mood to mend fences after a good night’s sleep, they were grievously mistaken.
The Russian President reeled off a second blistering attack on Turkey’s leadership Wednesday, accusing it of financing the so-called Islamic State and of “Islamising” its own society. The comments, coming a day after after Turkish F-16 fighters shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber on the Turkish-Syrian border while it was en route to bomb rebel fighters in Syria, seem likely to make it harder for the two to “de-escalate” their conflict, however much the White House and the rest of the NATO alliance would like them to.
Putin had already accused Turkey of giving Russia a “stab in the back” in its fight against terrorism Tuesday and promised retribution. But on Wednesday, he went much further, accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of radicalizing his own population and repeating accusations that the country is financing terrorism by buying oil off Islamic State on the black market. And the Associated Press reported Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying that terrorists have used Turkish territory to prepare their attacks.
“The problem is not in yesterday’s tragedy. Rather, it’s much deeper,” Putin told journalists. “We–and not only we, I can assure you–have seen today’s leadership in Turkey pursuing, in its domestic policy, a quite deliberate course of Islamization for a number of years.”
International rights groups have often directed similar criticism at Erdogan in recent years, but most western countries have shied away from joining in such claims, unwilling to upset a key ally in the near east.
European leaders have voiced increasing frustration at Turkey’s inability (or unwillingness) to stop the two-way flow of migrants fleeing Syria and radicalized European Muslims heading there to fight against President Bashar al-Assad. But Europe’s dependence on Erdogan’s goodwill was underlined earlier this month when E.U. leaders agreed to send Turkey €3 billion ($3.3 billion) in aid, ostensibly to stop the flow of migrants and help it police its borders.
Putin had threatened retribution on Tuesday for the “crime” of shooting down Russian aircraft, and he appeared to endorse calls by individual Russian lawmakers for what would amount to a punitive economic sanction on Ankara in stopping flights between the two countries. Russia sends nearly 4 million tourists a year to Turkey, more than any other country except Germany.
“In a situation when Turkish authorities aren’t exactly negative toward the Islamic State terrorist group [which is banned in Russia], there is the risk of terrorists infiltrating Turkish airports and increasing the danger of terrorism in Russian airliners,” the newspaper Kommersant quoted lawmaker Nikolay Levichev as saying. State-run news agency RIA Novosti quoted Senator Igor Morozov as saying that “Russian tourists are not safe in the country that downs Russian planes.”
Erdogan, meanwhile, appeared in more conciliatory mood, saying “we have no intention of escalating this incident,” according to Reuters. “We are only defending our security and the rights of our brothers.”
Turkey has told the UN that it shot down the aircraft as it flew over a thin strip of Turkish territory en route to targets in Syria, where ethnic Turkmen fighters, rather than Islamic State, are rebelling against Assad. It noted that the plane had only been in Turkish airspace for 17 seconds, but had ignored 10 warnings as it approached.
The reaction of financial markets to the incident suggests that neither country will do well from escalating their dispute. Russia’s stock market lost 3% and Turkey’s 4.4% Tuesday in reaction to the news. Turkey’s continued to fall Wednesday, while Russia’s stabilized (due, ironically, to the rise in oil prices caused by the incident).