Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeared set to increase tension with Russia in the wake of his country's downing of a Russian jet on Nov. 24, vowing that his country would offer no apology for the incident.
“I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us," Erdoğan said in an exclusive interview with CNN International on Nov. 26. “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to ... violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence."
Earlier the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Turkey still had not apologized for the downing of the Russian warplane or given assurances that “the culprits of this crime" would be punished. Speaking at the Kremlin, Putin complained that he had not received an apology from Turkey or an offer “to make up for the damages." Russia previously insisted that its plane never violated Turkish airspace as Turkey claimed.
Putin also said he regretted the fact that relations between Turkey and Russia had been driven into a stalemate.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to the Turkish Cypriot capital of Nicosia on Nov. 26, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said Ankara would not apologize to Moscow.
“We don't need to apologize on an occasion in which we are right," Çavuşoğlu said. “But we said on the phone [Nov. 25] that we are sorry," he said, referring to a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
Hours before the release of his interview with CNN International, Erdoğan addressed a group of village chiefs when he said Turkey had no reason to target Russia.
“We are exerting efforts to maintain peace and serenity in the region, not create new tensions. There is no reason to target Russia with whom we have multidimensional and very strong relations … Our disagreement with Russia on Syria is one thing and the activation of our rules of engagement is something else," Erdoğan said.
The Turkish president also dismissed “emotional" suggestions that projects with Russiacould be canceled following the Nov. 24 incident, which 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 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
“We are strategic partners. 'Joint projects may be halted, ties could be cut.' Are such approaches fitting for politicians?" Erdoğan asked.
“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," he said.
Medvedev on Nov. 25 alleged that Turkish officials were benefiting from ISIL oil sales, while 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," Erdoğan said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
“If you are seeking the source of weaponry and financial power of Daesh, the first place to look is the regime [of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] and the countries that act with it," he said.
On Nov. 25, Putin also argued that the current leadership of Turkey was purposefully supporting the country's Islamization.
“The problem is not in the tragedy we faced yesterday [the Su-24 incident], the problem is much deeper," Putin told reporters. “We see – and not only we, I assure you that the entire world sees it as such – that the current leadership of Turkey has been for a number of years pursuing a purposeful policy of support and the Islamization of the country," Putin said.
Erdoğan had a response for those remarks as well.
“Turkey's 99 percent [of the population] is Muslim, how can you say that? How can a phrase like that be used? Can I come up and say 'The administration is exerting efforts at the Christianization of Russia?' There are 30 millions of Muslims living there," Erdoğan said. “Tayyip Erdoğan is Muslim. This country's 99 percent is Muslim. Then what should I exert efforts for? We are solely exerting efforts to fulfill what our religions requires; that's what we do," he said.