President Vladimir Putin of Russia and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stoked the confrontation over the downed Russian jet by hurling insults at each other and demanding redress.
MOSCOW — The downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey threatened to lead to a wholesale breach in the countries’ relations Thursday, with Russia preparing to sever economic ties and Turkish officials saying they had no reason to apologize.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia gave government officials two days to draw up a list of ways to curb economic links and investment projects. That included the possible shelving of a multibillion-dollar deal to build a gas pipeline through Turkey that President Vladimir Putin had trumpeted as a welcome alternative route for Russian gas exports to Europe.
Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stoked the confrontation by hurling insults at each other and demanding redress.
Coalition grows: British Prime Minister David Cameron urged skeptical lawmakers to back airstrikes on the Islamic State group in Syria, saying Thursday that the Paris attacks have given the fight new urgency and Britain owes it to key allies to act. Cameron told the House of Commons that President Obama and French President François Hollande had urged Britain to join the military campaign in Syria. “These are our closest allies and they want our help,” he said. Cameron has not announced a date for a House of Commons vote on airstrikes.
Terror alert: Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel lowered the alert level in Brussels one notch Thursday, from the highest level, on which it has been since Saturday. Subways are to reopen fully Friday. Despite the reduction in alert level, Michel said an attack remained “possible and likely.”
Seattle Times news services
“We have still not heard any comprehensible apologies from the Turkish political leaders, or any offers to compensate for the damage caused, or promises to punish the criminals for their crime,” Putin said at the Kremlin. He repeated Russia’s position that the warplane was brought down Tuesday over Syria, not Turkey.
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“One gets the impression that the Turkish leaders are deliberately leading Russian-Turkish relations into a gridlock,” Putin said, adding later in the day: “Turkey was our friend, almost an ally, and it is a shame that this was destroyed in such a foolish manner.”
The standoff between the two leaders boded ill for the mission of President François Hollande of France, who met with Putin in Moscow on Thursday as part of his effort after the Paris attacks to cement an international coalition to confront the Islamic State group.
Putin and Hollande agreed to tighten cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State group, although they remained at odds over their approach toward Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against both countries’ citizens in recent weeks: Nov. 13 shootings and suicide bombings in Paris that killed 130 people, and the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that killed 224.
Hollande and Putin agreed on increasing intelligence sharing, intensifying their airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and cooperating on selecting targets.
But the two countries disagree over Assad, with Hollande saying the Syrian head of state “does not have his place in Syria’s future,” and Putin stressing “The Syrian president’s fate should be entirely in the hands of the Syrian people.”
Russia and Turkey were already divided over Assad’s future, with Turkey insisting he step aside and Russia calling Assad a central ally in the fight against the Islamic State group.
The downing of the Russian plane inflamed that rift over Assad. Erdogan maintained Thursday that Turkey was protecting its airspace from Russian incursions.
“Faced with the same violation today, Turkey would give the same response,” he said. “It’s the country that carried out the violation which should question itself and take measures to prevent it from happening again, not the country that was subjected to a violation.”
Later, Erdogan appeared to soften his remarks somewhat, telling France 24 television: “We might have been able to prevent this violation of our airspace differently.”
During a news conference with Hollande late Thursday, Putin suggested the United States, an ally of Turkey, was responsible for the fate of its warplane, since Russian officials had passed on information about where and when its bombers would fly.
“What did we give this information to the Americans for?” Putin asked, rhetorically, before adding: “We proceed from the assumption that it will never happen again. Otherwise we don’t need any such cooperation with any country.”
Immediately after Turkey shot down the Russian warplane Tuesday, senior officials in Moscow and Ankara vowed that they wanted to limit any larger conflict. Given that Turkey is a member of NATO, any military confrontation risks pulling in its Western allies.
But the economic, geographic and historically competitive ties that bind the two faded empires are facing new strains. At the very least, the tension will hamper chances of resolving the bloody war in Syria.
Even before any formal plans for economic sanctions were drawn up, Russia was already retaliating. Russia has a long history of suddenly discovering faults with the goods and services of other nations when diplomatic relations sour.
Hundreds of trucks bearing Turkish fruits, vegetables and other products were lining up at the Georgian border with Russia, Russian news media reported, as inspections slowed to a crawl and Russian officials suggested there might be a terrorist threat from the goods.
“This is only natural in light of Turkey’s unpredictable actions,” said Dmitry Peskov, the presidential spokesman.
The biggest question about possible economic fallout hung over major energy projects, including the gas pipeline across the Black Sea and the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear-power plant.