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Turkey seeks deescalation of crisis with Russia

November 30, 2015

Turkey's prime minister has called for talks with Russia to prevent another downing of a jet along the border with Syria. He also criticized Russian sanctions as against mutual interests.

Image: Reuters/F. Lenoir

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutolgu defended the downing of a Russian jet last week, saying Turkey would not apologize for the incident but would like to avoid a deterioration of relations with Russia.

"Protection of our airspace, our border is not only a right but a duty for my government and no Turkish premier or president ... will apologize (for) doing our duty," Davutoglu said on Monday, flanked by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The downing of a Russian jet last week has heightened tensions between Moscow and Ankara, with Russia implementing a host of sanctions against Turkey that Davutoglu said went against the mutual interests of both countries.

The retaliatory measures include restrictions on Turkish citizens traveling to Russia, sanctions on agricultural goods and prohibiting travel operators from running trips to Turkey, a top destination for Russians.

The prime minister criticized the sanctions, pointing out that Turkey has not joined sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis and Moscow's own opposition to Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.

"It is contradictory to use the same measure against Turkey which was criticized by them when other countries did so in Ukraine," Davutoglu said.

Ready to talk

Davutoglu called for meetings with Russia at all levels to prevent another incident in the future and share information on the jet downing.

"If the Russian side wants to talk, we are ready; if they want more information, we are ready; if they want to normalize relations, we are ready to talk," he said.

"If there are two coalitions functioning in the airspace against Daesh ("Islamic State") it may be difficult to prevent these types of incidents," Davutolgu said, adding the US-led coalition and Russian bombing campaigns need to be coordinated.

But in a snub to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Kremlin on Monday said President Vladimir Putin would not meet with the Turkish leader on the sidelines of the climate talks in Paris to ease tensions.

Russia has demanded an apology from Turkey and accused Turkey of backing terrorist organizations in Syria.

Turkey has accused Russia of bombing civilians and "moderate" opposition fighters it backs against the Syrian regime, creating a flow of refugees that threaten its national security.

"The Turkish-Syrian border is a national security border for Turkey. We respect Russian national security concerns but we also expect our Russian friends to understand our national security concerns," the Turkish prime minister said.

With political talks on the Syrian crisis between the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other key players making headway, Davutoglu said Turkey and Russia would have to cooperate to end the civil war in Syria.

NATO confirms Turkish version of events

Russia has questioned Turkey's version of events, arguing its jet was over Syrian airspace when shot down.

Turkey has provided evidence of its version of events, in which it argues the Russian jet was warned multiple times before being fired on after it entered Turkish airspace for 17 seconds.

Turkey had also previously met with Russian defense officials three times before the jet downing to warn of air space violations.

Stoltenberg said the Alliance's "other sources" of information are "consistent with Turkey's assessment about what happened."

Under Turkey's rules of engagement implemented three years ago fighter pilots are instructed to shoot down any plane that violates its airspace along the Syrian border.

Stoltenberg said the jet downing incident highlighted the importance of having mechanisms in place to prevent another airspace crisis and to prevent this from "getting out of control" should it happen again.

"I welcome Turkish efforts to establish contacts with Russia to de-escalate... it is important to stay calm," Stoltenberg said.

cw/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)