Putin blanks Erdogan calls over Su-24 downing

Putin blanks Erdogan calls over Su-24 downing
By bne IntelliNews November 27, 2015

President Vladimir Putin rebuffed two phone calls from Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the destruction of a Russian bomber and no top-level dialogue is underway to calm the tensions, Kremlin officials on November 27, as Moscow assembled a retaliatory package of sanctions over the incident three days earlier.

There was no direct contact between the leaders despite the calls, including an initial attempt to reach Putin 7-8 hours after a Turkish fighter shot down the Su-24, resulting in the death of its pilot at the hands of rebels. A Russian marine also died in the search operation for the second crewman who was eventually rescued.

Asked about the state of the dialogue with Turkey over the incident, which Russia has condemned as a "planned provocation", Kremlin spokesman  Dmitry Peskov said, "there is none", TASS reported.

However, in a sign that Ankara wants to defuse the situation, presidential advisor Yuri Ushakov said Erdogan had requested a meeting with the Russian president in Paris on the sidelines of the UN climate conference on November 30. The aide did not say what the response was.

Meanwhile, Russia has suspended visa-free travel for Turkish citizens from January 1, 2016, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. He did not say how long the suspension would last, but said Turkey was the source of a "very real threat" of terrorism, Interfax reported.

Moscow ministries also continued to formulate a broad package of other measures against Turkey. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave instructions a day earlier for a strong response to what he called  "act of aggression against our state on the part of Turkey" on November 24.

Multiple options are open to Russia. According to government officials, the steps can include restrictions of financial operations, trade deals, changes in import and export customs duties, additional curbs on tourism, transport, including transit, aircraft and vessels movement, humanitarian contacts, and use of the workforce. A food import embargo was not expected to be included, although Turkish food exports to Russia came under heightened scrutiny in the past days.

Evidently anxious about the scale of the building Russian response, Erdogan has said Turkey "does not want tensions with Russia" but that his efforts to talk to Putin went unanswered.

"We need to talk about what happened [...], but Putin has not returned my call," Erdogan told the France 24 channel. He reiterated Turkey's stance that the Russian plane repeatedly ignored warnings to leave Turkish airspace and failed to identify itself before it was finally shot down. Moscow disputes the claims.

"Had we known it was a Russian plane we may have acted differently. But our pilots know the rules of engagement and have to do their duty to protect Turkish airspace," Erdogan added, sidestepping questions about whether he intended to apologise for the attack.

However, Erdogan told CNN separately that "Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologise". While meeting with community leaders in Ankara, he added that, "If the same violation occurs today, Turkey has to react the same way".

Hours after the incident, Putin denounced the Turkish actions as a "stab in the back" and warned of that the missile attack on the bomber would have "serious consequences" for Russian-Turkish relations.

Meanwhile, Russia vowed to continue strikes against Islamic State and rebel forces in Syria, including by the border with Turkey, and dispatched sophisticated ground-to-air missiles to protect its aircraft in further operations. Erdogan subsequently told CNN that Turkey will take steps if any of its aircraft were now targeted by Russian missiles in case of violation of Syrian airspace.

On November 26, Putin held talks with French President Francois Hollande in the Kremlin at which they agreed their countries will exchange intelligence on IS and other rebels to enhance their aerial bombing campaigns in Syria.

However, the leaders differed over the fate of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, a Russia ally whom Western and Sunni Arab countries blame for the almost five-year civil Syrian war and want removed from power.

After the November 30 terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, Putin reiterated earlier calls for a broad anti-terrorist coalition including Russia.