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U.S. Urges Russia, Turkey to Cool Standoff Over Downed Warplane

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Image 0Russia moved to reinforce its military base in Syria and ratcheted up criticism of Turkey as the U.S. and German leaders called for an easing of tensions after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet.

Russia “will have to respond to" any future air incidents, President Vladimir Putin said. “We are taking this incident in the most serious possible way and all means will be used to ensure security," he said Wednesday in Nizhny Tagil.

Vladimir Putin in Nizhny Tagil

Photographer: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

Turkey showed no sign of backing down. “We certainly don't have any idea to escalate this issue," though “we will maintain our stance" and protect the country's airspace, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Istanbul.

Putin has ruled out any military retaliation against Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but the clash has highlighted dangers the Syria conflict could spiral into a broader one since Russia began air attacks there Sept. 30.

'Criminal Actions'

The Defense Ministry in Moscow said Wednesday it would deploy an S-400 air-defense system at the base in Syria's Latakia used by Russian forces and move a cruiser offshore in the Mediterranean to provide protection for its planes in the air. Bombing missions will be accompanied by fighters and “any targets posing a potential danger to us will be destroyed," the ministry said late Tuesday.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Turkey's “criminal actions" show it's protecting the Islamic State terrorist group, as there's “a direct financial interest of certain Turkish officials in the supply" of oil products from refineries controlled by Islamic State, according to a transcript on his website.

The attack on the Russian warplane caused a “dangerous" escalation in relations between Russia and NATO “that can't be excused with any interests, including the protection of state borders," Medvedev said in Yekaterinburg.

Turkey shot down the plane near its border with northwestern Syria Tuesday, saying the pilots ignored repeated warnings about violating its airspace. Russia's Defense Ministry said Turkey made no attempt to contact its bomber before firing. Putin Tuesday called the attack “a stab in the back from the accomplices of terrorism" and warned of “very serious consequences."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday added to the calls for calm. “The shooting down of a Russian jet has further heightened the situation in Syria," she said in Berlin.

'Turkmen Brothers'

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Wednesday renewed appeals to Russia to stop bombing “Syrian Turkmen brothers," a reference to rebels in the area of Syria where the plane went down. He said there were reports of new Russian air attacks Wednesday. Backed by Turkey, the Turkmen have been fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops in the region and have lost ground to them in recent weeks amid the Russian bombing.

Russian jets escalated bombing raids Wednesday against targets in the area where the plane was downed, Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said by phone.

The first direct clash between foreign powers embroiled in the Syrian civil war came as French President Francois Hollande seeks to forge an alliance with the U.S. and Russia against Islamic State after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov canceled a trip to Turkey planned for Wednesday. Russia also cut off all military contacts with Turkey.

Turkish companies may lose their position on the Russian market and important joint projects may be halted because of the breach in “long-standing neighborly relations," Medvedev said. Russia's Federal Tourism Agency urged tour operators late Tuesday to suspend sales of trips to Turkey, citing the risk of terrorism in a country visited by millions of Russian tourists every year.

Russia also announced a ban on poultry imports from Turkey's Standard Gita supplier from Dec. 1, Interfax reported Wednesday.

'Common Enemy'

U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday he'll make it a “top priority" to prevent the Turkey-Russia standoff from worsening, and focus instead on destroying jihadist groups. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's Secretary General, said that “the common enemy" is Islamic State and he called for expanded contacts between Turkey and Russia to defuse the dispute.

One of two pilots who ejected from the stricken jet before it crashed was rescued by Russian and Syrian commandos in an operation behind rebel lines, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. The pilot was taken to Russia's base in Syria, he said.

The other pilot died from gunfire on the ground after he'd ejected from the plane, the Russian Defense Ministry said late Tuesday. A Russian marine was also killed when a rescue helicopter on a mission to retrieve the pilots was damaged by gunfire, it said.

NATO members and Russia all say they're targeting Islamic State, and they've vowed to intensify that fight after a wave of jihadist attacks including this month's Paris killings and the bombing of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt. But their actions are often out of sync: the U.S. and allies such as Turkey also want to remove Assad, while Russia has supported him.

Obama met Hollande on Tuesday to discuss joint steps against Islamic State. At a White House press conference, both leaders urged Turkey and Russia to avoid any escalation, and concentrate fire on Islamic State.

Obama said Turkey has “the right to defend its territory and its airspace," and the incident highlighted problems with Russian military operations so close to the Turkish border. Hollande said he'll press Putin to refocus Russian strikes on Islamic State when he meets the Russian leader in Moscow on Thursday.

Source: bloomberg

November 25 2015, 18:05

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