Turkish-Russian rift emerges over jet downed by Syria

June 27, 2012, Wednesday/ 18:18:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

In the first public statement on the downing of a Turkish military jet by Syria in the Mediterranean, Russia has said the incident should not be seen as a deliberate act by Damascus, a statement dismissed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said Russia was acting as a mouthpiece for the Syrians.

Russia said Friday’s incident should not be seen as a provocation and warned world powers against using the incident to push for stronger action against Damascus. “It is important that what happened is not viewed as a provocation or a premeditated action [by Syria],” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on its website on Tuesday. Erdoğan said evidence Turkey suggests otherwise.

In response to the Russian statement, Erdoğan said he doesn’t understand on what basis the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made those remarks. “He was different in his talks with our foreign minister [Ahmet Davutoğlu]. He is saying this after his talks with Syrian officials. He is kind of being their mouthpiece,” Erdoğan said.

Turkey and Russia enjoy close economic ties and political relations have also improved significantly under Erdoğan’s government. But the two countries are at odds over Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is facing a 16-month-long uprising against his rule. Russia has used its power of veto in the UN Security Council to shield Syria from harsher international sanctions while Turkey continues to insist that Assad must go. Ankara has declared that Syria is now a threat to its security after Syrian forces downed the Turkish jet on Friday.

Moscow warned that any escalation of tensions would be “extremely dangerous” and threaten international efforts to salvage a moribund six-point Syrian peace plan drawn up by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. “Once again, we call on all sides to act exclusively in the interests of such an agenda [the peace plan] and not to take steps that go beyond its limits,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, adding that Russia believes the best course of action is restraint and constructive interaction between the Turkish and Syrian sides in order to clarify the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Speaking to Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA, Russian radical nationalist leader Vladimir Jirinovski accused Turkey for the jet incident, saying it was a deliberate provocation by Ankara. Jirinovski said that he strongly condemned Turkey’s violation of the Syrian airspace, claiming that the incident was done deliberately by Turkey.

The radical leader claimed that in the recent times, United States, NATO and Europe were trying to escalate the tensions in Syria, adding there was an intention to provoke the violence in Syria in order to pave the way for a military intervention. Jirinovski warned Turkey to avoid such provocations, calling on Turkey to stop supporting and arming the Syrian opposition fighting to topple Assad.

Turkey denies Russian involvement in shooting incident

Meanwhile, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz has denied a claim that Russian forces shot down the Turkish F-4 military jet off the Syrian coast.

Responding to questions posed by opposition deputies in Parliament late on Monday night, Yılmaz said his government has no knowledge of Russian involvement in the incident. He added that all evidence suggests Syria attacked the jet while it was on a peaceful mission with full knowledge of the identity of the plane.

Masum Türker, chairman of the Democratic Left Party (DSP), alleged on Monday that a Russian ship was involved in the attack, rather than Syrian forces. “There are two Russian warships and a Russian frigate in Latakia’s harbor,” he said, adding, “One of them, Admiral Chabanenko, has the technology to detect the slightest movement in the air.”

Türker maintained that the Chabanenko shot down the Turkish jet, but Yılmaz categorically denied this claim, calling it a baseless allegation. “This is not true,” he said, advising that deputies believe the explanation offered by the Prime Ministry and Foreign Ministry.

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