Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday called for sanctions against Turkey, following the downing this week by Turkey of a Russian warplane.
The decree published on the Kremlin’s website Saturday came hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had voiced regret over the incident, saying his country was “truly saddened” by the event and wished it hadn’t occurred.
It includes a ban on some goods and forbids extensions of labor contracts for Turks working in Russia as of Jan. 1. It doesn’t specify what goods are to be banned or give other details, but it also calls for ending chartered flights from Russia to Turkey and for Russian tourism companies to stop selling vacation packages that would include a stay in Turkey.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev earlier in the week had ordered his cabinet to develop a list of goods to be sanctioned.
Putin’s decree also calls for ending visa-free travel between Russia and Turkey and orders the tightening of control over Turkish air carriers in Russia “for security reasons.” The decree was issued “to protect Russian citizens from crimes,” a Kremlin statement said.
Erdogan’s expression of regret Saturday was the first since Tuesday’s incident in which Turkish F-16 jets shot down the Russian jet on grounds that it had violated Turkey’s airspace despite repeated warnings to change course. It was the first time in half a century that a NATO member shot down a Russian plane and drew a harsh response from Moscow.
“We are truly saddened by this incident,” Erdogan said. “We wish it hadn’t happened as such, but unfortunately such a thing has happened. I hope that something like this doesn’t occur again.”
Addressing supporters in the western city of Balikesir, Erdogan said neither country should allow the incident to escalate and take a destructive form that would lead to “saddening consequences.”
He renewed a call for a meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a climate conference in Paris next week, saying it would be an opportunity to overcome tensions.
Erdogan’s friendly overture, however, came after he again vigorously defended Turkey’s action and criticized Russia for its operations in Syria.
“If we allow our sovereign rights to be violated … then the territory would no longer be our territory,” Erdogan said.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said he hoped a meeting between Erdogan and Putin would take place in Paris.
“In such situations it is important to keep the channels of communication open,” he said.
Putin has denounced the Turkish action as a “treacherous stab in the back,” and has insisted that the plane was downed over Syrian territory in violation of international law. He has also refused to take telephone calls from Erdogan. Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said Friday that the Kremlin had received Erdogan’s request for a meeting, but wouldn’t say whether such a meeting is possible.
Asked why Putin hasn’t picked up the phone to respond to Erdogan’s two phone calls, he said that “we have seen that the Turkish side hasn’t been ready to offer an elementary apology over the plane incident.”
After the incident, Russia deployed long-range S-400 air defense missile systems to a Russian air base in Syria just 30 miles south of the border with Turkey to help protect Russian warplanes, and the Russian military warned it would shoot down any aerial target that would pose a potential threat to its planes.
On Saturday Turkey issued a travel warning urging its nationals to delay non-urgent and unnecessary travel to Russia, saying Turkish travelers were facing “problems” in the country. It said Turks should delay travel plans until “the situation becomes clear.”
Heintz reported from Moscow.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu criticized Russian economic sanctions on Turkey after the downing of a Russian fighter jet over the Syrian border last week, saying his priority was to defuse the tension and prevent similar incidents.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday announced measures against Turkey including the suspension of visa-free travel, halting tours to Turkey and a ban on the hiring of Turkish nationals.
“It’s not just Turkey that has economic interests, Russia too has economic interests in relation to Turkey,” Davutoglu said, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. Turkey expects Russian officials to act in a cool-headed manner, he said.
The downing of the jet by a Turkish F-16 warplane has overshadowed efforts to mount a united campaign against Islamic State militants after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. Putin described the incident as a stab in the back by Turkey, which has criticized Russia’s decision to launch airstrikes in Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad.
Davutoglu, speaking before traveling to Brussels for talks with the European Union, said Turkey’s priority was to keep open communications with Russia and to coordinate operations in Syria. The downing of the jet “clearly showed that air operations in same airspace by two separate coalitions of countries can always lead to similar incidents,” he said.
Turkey has sent a request for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to meet with Putin on Nov. 30 during the climate summit in Paris, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, said Saturday in a televised interview. Russia hasn’t replied yet, he said.
While it is still too early to quantify the impact of Russian sanctions on the Turkish economy, the effect could “clearly” be negative as Turkey stands to lose a major source of tourism revenue, said Apostolos Bantis, a credit analyst a Commerzbank AG in Dubai.
Turkey is the most popular foreign destination for Russians, with 3.3 million visiting in the first nine months of this year. They make up more than 10 percent of the tourists in Turkey, the second-highest number after Germany.
“We expect markets will react negatively and we’ll see further volatility across all Turkish assets until there is further clarity on specific sanctioned entities and banned products,” Bantis said.
The Turkish lira fell 3.3 percent against the dollar last week, the second-biggest decline in emerging-markets currencies after Brazil’s real. The yield on the nation’s two-year government bonds jumped 27 basis points over the same period, the most since August.
Nearly two months into the Russian military intervention in Syria, it should be already clear this involvement has been toxic on multiple levels. So far, the move has caused at least two high points of polarisation not only inside Syria but also in the region at large, with little to show in terms of reversing the rebels’ gains on the ground.
Moscow’s decision to intervene on the side of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad had a unifying and galvanising effect for the anti-government forces. In a rare show of support for the Free Syrian Army, for example, individuals affiliated to extremist forces praised western-backed groups for destroying around 20 regime tanks during the first ground offensive assisted by Russian air cover. Armed factions seem to have increasingly adjusted to the merciless Russian bombardments and managed to make a number of significant gains against the regime, primarily in southern and northern Aleppo.
Meanwhile, the only major achievement for the regime forces has been to break the siege of the Kweiris airbase between Aleppo and Raqqa, although the base was not completely secured and ISIL returned to carry out suicide attacks outside it.
In the background of this meagre performance, the Turkish military downed a Russian jet last Tuesday. Some of the responses coming out of Russia about the incident are adding fuel to the fire raging in the region. For example, Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “Islamising” Turkey – suggesting that Moscow is either unaware of the landscape in the region or arrogantly ignoring it. For its part, the Russian embassy in the UK released poster art from 1915 mocking Ottoman soldiers.
These responses only help Mr Erdogan, who has long sought to present himself as a voice for Sunni Islam in the neighbourhood and beyond. While these statements may resonate positively within Russia, they are driving more people in the region to view the Russian intervention in Syria as part of a greater effort, not just an attempt to save a desperate ally.
Previously, Moscow could characterise its unwavering support for the Assad regime over the past five years as a reflection of its commitment to the Syrian state. Indeed, some in the opposition hoped that it would broker a deal between the two warring sides.
The provision of weaponry and political support at the UN Security Council is one thing. It is quite another to deploy forces in Syria and remorselessly strike residential areas. Expressing anger towards Turkey through the use of language that could be viewed in some circles as anti-Islamic is perilous, especially as many view this as part of a wider Russian-Iranian alliance.
The portrayal of the military dispute with Turkey in cultural terms could add to the already toxic sectarian situation in the region. Some people are calling for boycotts of Russian products in favour of Turkish ones. These voices, which reflect how Russia is perceived, should push Moscow to rethink its posture.
On a more subtle level, invoking past empires in discussing what is happening in Syria – Ottomans versus the Soviet Union – risks vindicating such claims made by extremist forces in the conflict. This is what the international campaign against ISIL tried to avoid by including Muslim countries in the fight and carefully depicting the battle as being one against a fringe group that does not represent Islam. This populist rhetoric should not be taken lightly, especially when it comes amid a substantial increase in the level of destruction and polarisation caused by the Russian intervention in Syria.
But regardless of this potential intangible effect, the standoff is already shifting the focus away from ISIL. Once again, countries that claim to be committed to the fight against ISIL are busy dealing with their own battles and priorities. And the situation is poised to become even more complex as division deepens between the international forces involved in the Syrian conflict.
The momentum built after the Paris attacks to fight ISIL has been overshadowed by disagreements within the pro-opposition international base, since France has so far failed to form a “grand alliance” that includes Russia, and also by the Russia-Turkey dispute.
The landscape inside Syria is already transforming in a way that may not help the fight against ISIL. It is hard to imagine how the international community will bridge the increasingly profound disagreements between the foreign forces inside Syria, especially as Russia fails to achieve palpable progress for the regime on the ground and as initial hopes for reviving the political process lead nowhere.
Hassan Hassan is associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and South Africa Programme, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
On Twitter: @hxhassan