Russia imposes economic sanctions on Turkey


Turkey denies media reports that it suspended air strikes against IS

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) ahead of the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit on 15 November 2015 in Antalya (AFP)
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Monday 7 December 2015 15:58 UTC

Moscow imposed economic sanctions on Turkey on Saturday as Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was "saddened" by the jet incident.

With the row showing no sign of abating, the Kremlin released the text of a decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that announced an end to charter flights between the two countries, a ban on Russian businesses hiring any new Turkish nationals and import restrictions on certain Turkish goods. 

It also asked Russian tour operators to refrain from selling trips to Turkey, normally a top holiday destination for Russian tourists.

The new measures come into effect on 1 January 2016. The list of Turkish goods subject to "bans or limitations" has not yet been made public.

The Kremlin announcement came just hours after Erdogan made his most conciliatory comments to date over the shooting down of the jet, saying he wished Tuesday's incident had never happened, but Erdogan stopped short of issuing an apology.

The angry exchange between the two countries has not been limited to official channels. 

In Crimea, a group of young people gathered around a hay effigy with the face of the Turkish president set up on the main square of Simferopol. 

Activists in Moscow, belonging to a youth wing of the conservative Rodina party, put a life-size inflatable doll of Erdogan in a coffin and delivered it to the Turkish Embassy.

Pictures on the group's website also showed the activists laying several funeral wreaths with ribbons saying "From Russian patriots to US puppets" outside the embassy.

Police detained two organisers. They were let go when law enforcement discovered they were municipal lawmakers, the group said.

"We advise Russia not to play with fire," President Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, lashing out at Russia's response to the downing of the warplane as well as its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Erdogan nevertheless said he wanted a direct meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when the two leaders are in Paris next week for the UN climate summit.

Moscow officially responded coolly, saying Turkey has yet to apologise for shooting down the jet on the Syrian border.

Turkey says the Su-24 warplane strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, but Russia insisted it did not cross from Syria.

It is thought to be the first downing of a Russian plane by a NATO member in more than half a century.

One of the pilots was shot dead in Syria after parachuting out of the burning plane while the second was found safe and sound, but one Russian soldier was killed in a rescue operation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Turkey had "crossed the line of what is acceptable" and warned that the incident could severely undermine both its national and regional interests.

Moscow has ruled out any military response but has pledged broad measures targeting entire sectors of the Turkish economy including tourism, agriculture and possibly key energy projects.

Lavrov said Turkish nationals travelling to Russia would require visas from 1 January, after Putin this week warned citizens not to travel to Turkey - a hugely popular destination for Russians.

"Russia is quite concerned with increasing terrorist threats in the Republic of Turkey," Lavrov added, after a spate of bloody attacks blamed on IS there.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday gave ministers two days to work out a plan to curb cooperation with Turkish companies after Russia said it would tighten checks on food imports over alleged safety standard violations.

Moscow has also hinted that the reprisals could hit two major projects with Turkey - a planned gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant.

The two countries have built up trade ties in recent years and Russia is already energy-poor Turkey's biggest oil and gas supplier.

But they are on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Ankara backing rebels fighting to topple Assad while Moscow is one of Assad's last remaining allies.

Erdogan, whose ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide election victory earlier this month, said Turkey did not "deliberately" shoot down the plane.

He dismissed Putin's criticism of the incident as "unacceptable," noting that Russian planes had twice violated Turkish air space in October.

He also attacked the Kremlin's policy in Syria after it launched air strikes in September, saying it was backing the "murderer" Assad and not targeting IS militants. 

Turkey wants to 'calm tensions' with Russia

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday called for unity against IS militants.

"While the measures to defend our territory will remain in place, Turkey will work with Russia and our allies to calm tensions," Davutoglu wrote in Friday's edition of The Times in London.

"The downing of an unidentified jet in Turkish airspace was not - and is not - an act against a specific country," he said.

Davutoglu emphasised that the international community should unite against a "common enemy".

"The international community must not turn on itself. Otherwise the only victors will be Daesh ... and the Syrian regime," he said, using an Arabic term for IS.

"The focus should be to tackle, head-on, the international threat that Daesh poses, securing the future of Syria and seeking a solution to the current refugee crisis," he said.

Turkey denied on Friday media reports that it had suspended air strikes against IS.

The Hurriyet newspaper said Turkey, a member of a US-led coalition fighting IS, had "temporarily" halted air raids against the group in Syria in order to avoid any further crises.

"Both sides agreed to act cautiously until they re-establish dialogue channels to reduce tensions," the paper said, citing security sources.

A government official denied that strikes had been halted.

"At this time, Turkey remains fully committed to fighting ISIS as part of the international coalition," he told AFP, using another name for the IS group. 

"Our policy remains unchanged and the claims, therefore, are inaccurate.

"Turkey's participation in coalition air strikes is determined by ourselves and our allies alone depending on mutual assessments of military developments on the ground and logistical needs."