ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey will not apologize for downing a Russian fighter jet it says violated Turkish airspace near the Syrian border, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an exclusive CNN interview Thursday in Ankara, the Turkish capital.
“I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us,” he said. “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to … violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence.”
Tensions in the Middle East have escalated after Turkey shot down the Russian warplane, with Erdogan accusing Russia of deceit and Moscow announcing it will deploy anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
There has been bellicose rhetoric on both sides, missiles are being deployed, and Russia and Turkey have each accused the other of supporting terrorism.
Now the economic weapons are being unsheathed.
Russia’s Agriculture Ministry announced it is strengthening controls over food and agriculture imports from Turkey. A statement on the Agriculture Ministry website said there would be “additional checks on the border and at production sites in Turkey” in response to what it said were “repeated violations of Russian standards by Turkish producers.”
Russia’s Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev is quoted on the ministry’s website saying that roughly 15% of Turkish agricultural products fail to meet Russian standards.
Consumer safety concerns?
In addition, Russia’s state-run consumer protection body said it had concerns about the quality and safety of children’s clothing, furniture and cleaning products originating from Turkey.
Some Russian tour operators have already said they will be curtailing travel to Turkey — a favorite destination for many Russian vacationers.
Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said on his ministry’s Twitter feed that the country would instal S-400 defense missile systems at its Hmeymim air base near Latakia, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
The missiles have a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles), according to the missilethreat.com website. The Turkish border is less than 45 kilometers (30 miles) away.
And Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow has “serious doubts” that Turkey’s downing of the Sukhoi Su-24 bomber near the Turkish-Syrian border Tuesday was a spur of the moment act.
“It looks very much like a planned provocation,” Lavrov said.
The unusual clash between Russia and a NATO member highlights the dangerous and unpredictable nature of the Syrian war, which has drawn global powers, including the United States, into a chaotic and complex conflict.
Turkey says Russian plane breached its sovereignty
Turkey and Russia have starkly different positions on Syria, with Ankara supporting rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally of Moscow.
Earlier, Erdogan condemned what he said was the violation of airspace by Russian warplanes, calling it an infringement on his country’s sovereignty. Turkey has repeatedly complained in the past of similar incidents.
He charged Russia with propping up the Assad government — a regime he said was inflicting terrorism on its own people. His remarks came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Turkey of being “the terrorists’ accomplices” for shooting down a plane he claimed was on an anti-terrorism mission.
Erdogan disputed that claim in a speech.
“There is no Daesh” in the area where the Russian planes were flying, Erdogan said, using another name for ISIS. “Do not deceive us! We know the locations of Daesh.”
And experts agree.
“None of the targets that … the Russians were going after had anything to do with ISIS. Those were all those Turkmen groups,” said CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.
Contacts between Turkish and Russian officials
The Turkmen minority in that part of northern Syria has strong ties to the Turkish government, which wants to afford it a degree of protection. Anyone who bombs that area attacks “our brothers and sisters — Turkmen,” Erdogan has said.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country doesn’t want to “drive a wedge” into its relationship with Russia, according to the semiofficial Anadolu news agency. And the two countries’ foreign ministers have already spoken by phone and plan to meet in person over the coming days, the news agency reported, citing a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said Lavrov “expressed indignation” over the incident during the phone call.
Two high-ranking Russian military officers have visited the Turkish general staff since the plane was shot down, Anadolu reported.
“Every question about the incident has been answered,” the general staff said, according to the news agency. It said that images from radar displays were shown to the Russian attaches during visits in Ankara.
Even as Erdogan has insisted Turkey doesn’t want to escalate the situation, the anger in his words — and those of Putin — showed that the conflict in Syria has now churned up a new and alarming wave of international turbulence.
The stakes are high in Syria, where the United States, Russia and a swarm of other global, regional and local forces are entangled in the civil war.
Turkey releases tape
Turkey, a NATO member, said it had repeatedly warned the Russian warplane, shooting it down only after it ignored several warnings and violated Turkish airspace.
Russia rejected that version of events, with the rescued co-pilot Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin telling state media reporters that “there were no warnings — not via the radio, not visually.”
“If they wanted to warn us, they could have shown themselves by heading on a parallel course,” Murakhtin said, according to the official Sputnik news agency. “But there was nothing.”
The Russian military said it believed the other crew member in the bomber was killed, as was a marine taking part in search and rescue efforts.
Putin has said the Russian plane was attacked 1 kilometer inside Syrian territory. But Erdogan said parts of the downed plane fell inside Turkey, injuring two people.
On Wednesday, Turkey’s military released an audio recording of what it says was its warning to the Russian warplane.
In one portion, a voice is heard saying: “This is Turkish Air Force speaking on guard. You are approaching Turkish airspace. Change your heading south immediately. Change your heading south.”
Russia has not yet commented on the audio.