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Putin: ‘Islamization’ of Turkey is Bigger Problem Than Downing of Russian Jet

1125putinMOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated his war of words with Turkey on Wednesday when he accused the Turkish leadership of having encouraged the “Islamization” of the country for years and stating that there was a “deeper problem” than just the Turkish military’s downing of a Russian warplane.

The diplomatic fallout of Tuesday’s incident near the Syrian border is becoming increasingly bitter as relations between Turkey and Russia face further strain. Putin confirmed the deaths of one Russian pilot and a marine involved in a rescue attempt, while the Syrian army rescued a second pilot, and then turned his attention to what he described as an “unfavorable environment” in Turkey.

“The problem is not the tragedy we witnessed yesterday,” Putin said, according to the TASS news agency. “The problem is much deeper. We observe…that the current Turkish leadership over a significant number of years has been pursuing a deliberate policy of supporting the Islamization of their country.”

Putin added: “We ourselves support Islam and will continue doing so, but the point at issue is the support of a more radical branch. And that in itself creates a very unfavorable environment.”

Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu would meet “in the coming days.” However, Lavrov also launched a scathing attack on the Turkish leadership, saying that Moscow’s “attitude to the Turkish people hasn’t changed” and they “only have questions about the Turkish leadership.”

Despite saying that Russia had “no intention to go to war with Turkey,” Lavrov said that the shooting down of the Russian fighter jet was “planned provocation” by Ankara.

Russia’s top diplomat continued to lambast the Turkish leadership, saying that “terrorists” had used Turkish soil to plan attacks elsewhere in Europe and urged Russian citizens not to travel to the country because of “extremist” threats, according to Associated Press.

In contrast with the Russian government’s fury following the incident, Turkey’s leaders, President Tayyip Recep Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, sought to reduce diplomatic tensions with Moscow while standing their ground over the country’s right to defend its borders.

Erdogan said that Turkey does not want the situation to worsen as Russia threatens economic revenge against the country.

“We have no intention of escalating this incident,” Erdogan said at a business event in Istanbul. “We are only defending our own security and the rights of our brothers.”

He added: “We will continue our humanitarian efforts on both sides of the [Syrian] border. We are determined to take all necessary measures to prevent a new wave of immigration.”

Davutoglu used a more conciliatory tone, calling Russia a “friend and neighbor” of Turkey that could not be “sacrificed to accidents of communication.”

Russia is “important partner and tops the list of countries with which we have shown great sensitivity in building ties,” Davutoglu said, Associated Press reported.

Both Turkish leaders called for Russia to halt airstrikes in the northern Syrian area in which the plane was shot down, where an Ankara-backed Turkmen militia operates.

“There is no Daesh [in the region],” Erdogan said, using a pejorative, Arabic acronym for the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). “Do not deceive us. We know the locations of Daesh.”

Other Russian politicians accused the Turkish government of not acting strongly enough to combat ISIS near the Syrian-Turkish border. A number of suspected ISIS militants have previously been found to operate within Turkey and authorities believe the group has been responsible for a number of attacks in the country’s territory, such as July’s Suruc bombing that left 33 people dead and October’s Ankara bombings that killed 102.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that some Turkish officials, who he did not name, have colluded with ISIS because of the lucrative oil business the group is operating after capturing a series of key oilfields in Syria.

“Turkey’s actions are de facto protection of Islamic State,” Medvedev said, according to Russian state news organization Russia Today. “This is no surprise, considering the information we have about direct financial interest of some Turkish officials relating to the supply of oil products refined by plants controlled by ISIS.”

He also warned that Turkey would face serious economic consequences for downing the Russian fighter jet, and questioned whether the countries could continue to pursue joint ventures.

“The direct consequences are likely to be the renunciation of a number of important joint projects and Turkish companies losing their position on the Russian market,” Medvedev said.

Moscow and Ankara continue to disagree on several details surrounding the downing of the plane. Putin claims that the jet was shot down 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) into Syrian territory while Erdogan says it was shot down after violating Turkish airspace.

Russia has been conducting an air campaign against ISIS and Syrian rebels fighting Moscow’s key ally Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as the civil war in the country nears the start of its fifth year. -Newsweek


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