Turkey-Russia spat over downed Russian plane deepens with Moscow moving to cut economic ties

A tug-of-war over a Russian warplane shot down by a Turkish fighter jet at the border with Syria escalated Thursday, with Moscow drafting a slew of economic sanctions against Turkey and the Turkish president saying on a defiant note that his military is ready to do the same if another air intrusion happens.

ANKARA, Turkey — A tug-of-war over a Russian warplane shot down by a Turkish fighter jet at the border with Syria escalated Thursday, with Moscow drafting a slew of economic sanctions against Turkey and the Turkish president saying on a defiant note that his military is ready to do the same if another air intrusion happens.

The spat reflected a clash of ambitions of two strongman leaders, neither of whom appeared willing to back down and search for a compromise.

Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24 military jet on Tuesday, insisting it had violated its airspace despite repeated warnings. The incident marked the first time in half a century when a NATO member shot down a Russian plane, raising the threat of a military confrontation between the alliance and Moscow.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin denounced the Turkish action as a “treacherous stab in the back,” and insisted that the plane was downed over the Syrian territory in violation of the international law.

“Until that moment, we haven’t heard a clear apology from Turkey’s top political leadership, or an offer to compensate for the damage or a promise to punish the criminals who committed that crime,” he said in the Kremlin while receiving credentials from several ambassadors. “It gives an impression that the Turkish leadership is deliberately driving the Russian-Turkish relations into a deadlock, and we regret that.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in no mood to apologize, and warned that Ankara would act in the same way in case of another intrusion.

“Faced with the same violation today, Turkey would give the same response,” Erdogan said. “It’s the country that carried out the violation which should question itself and take measures to prevent it from happening again, not the country that was subjected to a violation.”

Erdogan said Turkey had not specifically targeted Russia when it shot down the plane, saying it was “an automatic response” in line with its rules of engagement.

Turkey has released audio recordings of what it says are the Turkish military’s repeated warnings to the pilot of a Russian bomber before it was shot down at the border with Syria — audio that grows increasingly more agitated.

The recordings, made available to The Associated Press on Thursday, indicate the plane was warned several times Tuesday that it was approaching Turkey’s airspace and asked to change course, but there is no indication of a Russian reply.

In the recordings, a voice is heard saying in broken English: “This is Turkish Air Force speaking on guard. You are approaching Turkish airspace. Change your heading south immediately.”

Most of the audio is garbled and barely comprehensible but the tone of the voice gets more agitated as the warnings appear to go unnoticed.

The audio that was released only involved Turkish warnings, no replies by a Russian pilot. It was not clear if Turkey had received any replies from the Russian pilots but did not release them, if the Russian pilots never replied to the warnings or if the Russians never even heard the warnings.

A Russian airman who survived the shoot-down and was later rescued by the Syrian and Russian commando, denied veering into Turkey’s airspace “even for a single second.” Turkey insists the plane was in its airspace for 17 seconds.

Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin also said he and his crewmate, who was killed by ground fire after bailing out, heard any Turkish warnings. The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the audio recording released by Ankara as a fake.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also urged Turkey to speak up about the rebels who killed the pilot. “Either confirm that these are the people that you defend, then we will finally see what this moderate opposition is. Or say that you don’t have anything to do with it and express your position about their actions,” she said.

Erdogan accused Russia of using its declared goal to fight the Islamic State group in Syria as a pretext to target opposition groups including the Turkmen, in order to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Putin responded to the plane’s downing by ordering the deployment of powerful long-range air defence missiles to a Russian air base in Syria. On Thursday, Russian state television stations ran report showing the S-400 missiles already deployed at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, just 50 kilometres (30 miles) away from the border with Turkey.

The Russian military also moved the navy missile cruiser Moskva closer to the shore to help protect Russian warplanes with its long-range Fort air defence system and warned that it was prepared to destroy any target that may threaten its warplanes.

In addition to the military moves, the Kremlin also acted Thursday to inflict economic pain on Turkey.

Since the plane was shot down Tuesday in disputed circumstances on the Syria-Turkey border, Russia has already restricted tourism, left Turkish trucks stranded at the border and announced the confiscation of large quantities of Turkish food imports.

On Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered to draft formal sanctions against Turkey within the next two days, which will include “restrictions and bans on Turkish economic structures operating in Russian territory, restrictions and bans on deliveries of products, including foodstuffs,” as well as on labour and services.

Russia was the biggest source of Turkish imports last year, worth $25 billion, which mostly accounted for Russian gas supplies. It also is the largest destination for Turkish exports, mostly textiles and food, and Turkish construction companies have won a sizable niche of the Russian market.

Erdogan lamented Russia’s intention to halt economic co-operation with Turkey, saying political leaders should talk first. “We are strategic partners” with Russia, he said.

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