LE BOURGET: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused Ankara of shooting down a Russian warplane to protect supplies of oil from the Islamic State group to Turkey, after snubbing his Turkish counterpart at a climate conference in France.
The Kremlin strongman fired the latest salvo in the furious war of words over the downing of the Russian jet on the Syrian border last week as the body of a pilot killed in the incident was returned home.
Turkish authorities meanwhile again pledged not to apologise over the incident, as Moscow rolled out its sanctions aimed at exacting economic revenge.
After rejecting Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s offer of face-to-face talks on the sidelines of a UN climate summit outside Paris on Monday, Putin accused Ankara of seeking to protect IS oil exports — an important source of funds for the jihadist group.
“We have every reason to think that the decision to shoot down our plane was dictated by the desire to protect the oil supply lines to Turkish territory, right to the ports where it is loaded onto tankers,” Putin said during a news conference on the fringes of the climate talks, echoing similar accusations he made last week — which Turkey vehemently denies.
“We have received additional information which unfortunately confirms that this oil, produced in areas controlled by the Islamic State and other terrorist organisations, is transported on an industrial scale to Turkey.”
Erdogan said he would be ready to resign if the allegations were proved true.
“I will say something very strong here. If such a thing is proven, the nobility of our nation would require that I would not stay in office,” he was quoted by the state-run Anatolia news agency as saying on the sidelines of the talks.
The downing of the Russian jet on the Turkey-Syria border — the first time a NATO member has shot down a Russian plane since 1952 — has hammered ties between the two rival players in the Syria conflict.
Putin did meet US President Barack Obama, who “expressed his regret” over the loss of life in the plane downing and called for a “de-escalation between Russia and Turkey”, a White House official said.
Russia on Monday laid out more details of retaliatory economic sanctions aimed at denting Turkey’s key tourism and agricultural sectors.
Moscow announced it will halt fruit and vegetable imports from Turkey after Putin signed a decree over the weekend banning charter flights and the sale of package holidays, and scrapping Russia’s visa-free regime with the country.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the moves a “first step” as Moscow also said it would limit Turkish transport firms and tighten controls on construction contracts.
The authorities however stopped short of targeting Russia’s major joint energy projects with Turkey.
The announcement on the economic reprisals came as the body of pilot Oleg Peshkov, who was killed when the plane was shot down, arrived back in Russia from Ankara.
A plane carrying the corpse of Peshkov was met by Russia’s defence minister outside Moscow after the body was bought from Syria to Turkey and handed over to Russian diplomats.
Both pilots aboard the Su-24 warplane ejected and parachuted to the ground on the Syrian side of the border after being shot down by Turkish F-16s on November 24.
Moscow’s defence ministry said Peshkov was shot dead from the ground while his comrade Konstantin Murakhtin was rescued by Russian and Syrian special forces. One Russian serviceman was also killed trying to rescue the pilot.
Local reports said Peshkov will be buried Wednesday in his hometown Lipetsk, an industrial city in central Russia.
After the downing of its jet Moscow has bolstered its firepower in Syria — where it is flying a bombing campaign at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — and on Monday said its planes were now equipped with air-to-air missiles.
Russian media has portrayed the handover of the remains as a goodwill gesture on the part of Ankara after several days of heated rhetoric, but neither side has looked willing to back down.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted once again that Ankara would not apologise over the downing of the plane.
“Protection of our airspace, our border is not only a right but a duty for my government and no Turkish premier or president … will apologise (for) doing our duty,” he told a joint press conference with NATO head Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels.
Davutoglu decried Russia’s sanctions against Turkey and called on Moscow to “reconsider these measures in both our interests”, while reiterating once again Ankara’s willingness to talk.