A day after shooting down a Russian jet at the Syrian border for violating Turkish airspace, Ankara appeared to be trying to defuse tension with Moscow, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stressing that Turkey doesn’t want an escalation of the incident.
Erdoğan said on Wednesday that Turkey doesn’t want to escalate tensions after it shot down the Russian jet, stressing that Turkey had to act to defend its own security as well as to defend the rights of its “brothers” in Syria.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu spoke on the phone to discuss the incident. Lavrov was scheduled to visit Turkey on Wednesday but canceled his visit after the plane was shot down.
Lavrov refused Çavuşoğlu’s requests for a meeting, the Interfax news agency quoted a Russian ministry spokeswoman as saying on Wednesday. “During the telephone conversation between Lavrov and the Turkish foreign minister, the Russian minister did not agree to any of numerous offers to meet,” Interfax quoted spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that Çavuşoğlu and Lavrov had agreed on the phone to meet in the coming days. “In their discussion, they reached an agreement to share details on the matter via diplomatic and military channels,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç said in an e-mailed statement.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Çavuşoğlu and Lavrov agreed to meet in Belgrade next week, citing a Turkish government official. The meeting is expected to take place at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council to be held in Belgrade, Serbia, Dec. 3-4, according to the report.
Speaking at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in İstanbul, Erdoğan said on Wednesday that Turkey favors “peace, dialogue and diplomacy.” The president said the Russian jet was fired upon while in Turkish airspace but crashed inside Syria, although he said parts of it landed in Turkey and injured two Turkish citizens.
“We have no intention of escalating this incident. We are only defending our own security and the rights of our brothers,” Erdoğan said, adding Turkey’s policy in Syria would not change. “We will continue our humanitarian efforts on both sides of the [Syrian] border. We are determined to take all necessary measures to prevent a new wave of migration,” he added.
Russia, along with the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been pounding the mountainous area where Bayir-Bucak Turkmens live. On Tuesday, two Turkish F-16 jets shot down a Russian-made Su-24 aircraft near the Syrian border after repeatedly warning it over airspace violations. But Moscow has claimed its jet did not leave Syrian airspace and that it was conducting preemptive strikes against terrorists in the region.
The downing of the jet on Tuesday 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 the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the plane was attacked while in Syria and warned Turkey of “serious consequences” for what he described as a “stab in the back” administered by the “associates of terrorists.”
US President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande, seeking to forge a broader alliance against ISIL after attacks in Paris this month, pressed Russia to focus on ISIL and urged Moscow and Ankara not to let the situation escalate.
Russia had been warned by Turkey and NATO about airspace violations at the border since last month. Putin claimed on Tuesday Russian planes had in no way threatened Turkey, but had merely been carrying out their duty to fight ISIL inside Syria.
But Erdoğan rejected this claim of Russia hitting ISIL targets in the region and said ISIL militants have no presence in the rural region of Latakia in northern Syria, where the Turkmen population lives, adding, “Let’s not kid ourselves.” He noted Turkey had made a “huge effort” to prevent incidents like the downing of the Russian aircraft, but that the limits of its patience had been tested.
Putin on Wednesday accused Turkey’s political leaders of encouraging the “Islamization of Turkish society,” something he described as a deeper problem than the downing of the jet.
The incident, which resulted in the death of one of the Su-24 pilots, has thrown Russian-Turkish relations into crisis and cooled the Kremlin’s hopes of rapprochement with the West.
In the meantime, protesters hurled eggs and stones at the Turkish Embassy in Moscow on Wednesday in response to the incident at the Syrian border. Windows at the embassy’s compound were shattered. Police cleared the area and made some arrests shortly after the protest began. All the protesters had left by late Wednesday afternoon and the area was being cleaned up.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the downing of the jet had complicated efforts to find a political solution in Syria and said everything must be done to avoid an escalation. Merkel said she had spoken to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in a telephone call on Tuesday.
“Of course every country has the right to defend its territory, but on the other hand we know how tense the situation is in Syria and in the surrounding area,” she told her parliament, adding that she had asked Davutoğlu to “do everything to de-escalate the situation.”
Davutoğlu also tried to reduce tensions with Moscow, saying on Wednesday that Russia is Turkey’s friend and neighbor and he insisted that relations cannot be “sacrificed over accidents of communication.” Davutoğlu told his party’s lawmakers on Wednesday Turkey did not know the nationality of the plane that was brought down on Tuesday until Moscow announced that it was Russian.
Defending Turkey’s action, Davutoğlu said Russia had been warned on several occasions that Turkey would take action in the event its border is violated, in line with its military rules of engagement.
He called Russia an “important partner who tops the list of countries with which we have shown great sensitivity in building ties.” However, he criticized Russian and Syrian operations in Syria’s Turkmen region, saying there is “not one single” indication of an ISIL presence there and called on military operations in the region to be halted immediately.