Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that he and President Barack Obama have a shared understanding on how to move toward a political settlement in Syria, but added that incidents like the recent downing of a Russian warplane by a Turkish fighter jet stymie broader cooperation against extremism.
Putin and Obama had a half-hour meeting on the sidelines of a climate summit near Paris, and the Russian leader told reporters they discussed efforts to compile a list of extremist groups and another one of members of legitimate political opposition.
Putin said “we have an understanding how we should proceed if we talk about a political settlement. We need to work on a new (Syrian) constitution, new elections and the control over their outcome.”
At the same time, he said, disputes such as last Tuesday’s shooting down of a Russian warplane imperil cooperation on defeating extremists and resolving Syria’s turmoil.
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Turkey said it downed the plane after it intruded its airspace for 17 seconds despite repeated warnings, while Russia insisted that the plane had remained in Syria’s airspace and denounced Ankara’s move as a “treacherous stab in the back.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed regret over the incident, but Putin has made it clear that Russia wants a formal apology, something Turkey has refused to do.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the United States has corroborated that the Russian plane violated Turkish airspace, based on evidence from Turkey and from “our own sources.”
Russia on Monday imposed sanctions including a ban on Turkish food exports.
Putin said he was “very sorry” to see the break-down of long-cultivated links with Turkey, but added that problems in bilateral ties have started building up long ago as Turkey has refused to hand over Russian suspects accused of terrorism.
He also accused Turkey of downing the Russian warplane in order to protect what he described as massive illegal imports of Islamic State-produced oil, saying that Ankara’s claim that it was worried about Russian blows on the territory populated by a Turkish ethnic group in Syria was “just a pretext.”
“We have every reason to believe that a decision to shoot down our plane was prompted by a desire to ensure security of that oil to the territory of Turkey and on to sea ports for loading into tankers,” he said.
Putin had presented fellow leaders at the Group of 20 summit hosted by Turkey in Antalya earlier this month with aerial pictures of what he described as convoys of oil trucks carrying oil from IS-controlled oilfields in Syria to the Turkish territory.
While Erdogan has denied the Russian accusations, Putin insisted that the illegal oil trade has acquired a massive scale.
“We have received additional information confirming that oil from IS-controlled deposits flows into Turkey on an industrial scale,” he said.
“Our pilots write on their bombs: “For ours!” and “For Paris!” Putin said. “And the Turkish air force shoots down our bomber! What kind of broad coalition can we talk about then?”
Still, he added that Russia would continue its efforts to help form a wider coalition against extremism.
“We will strive for helping form a working broad coalition and regional and financial interests fall behind a global terror threat,” he said, adding that it’s impossible to unite global efforts against the IS as long as “some use terrorist organizations to achieve momentary political goals and fail to observe the U.N. Security Council resolutions banning the sales of illegally produced oil.”