ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned Russia not to “play with fire” on Friday, but added he did not want to harm relations with Moscow, comments that look more likely to inflame than quell the dispute over a downed Russian bomber this week.
Relations between the former Cold War antagonists are at their worst in recent memory after Turkey shot down the jet near the Syrian border on Monday. Russia has threatened economic retaliation against Ankara, which Erdogan has dismissed as “emotional” and “unfitting”.
“We very sincerely recommend to Russia not to play with fire,” Erdogan told supporters during a speech in Bayburt, in northeast Turkey. “We really attach a lot of importance to our relations with Russia… We don’t want these relations to suffer harm in any way.”
Erdogan said he may speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a climate summit in Paris next week, a discussion that would be welcomed by the United States and EU, both of which fear the spat has distracted from the battle against Islamic State militants in Syria.
Putin has so far refused to contact Erdogan because Ankara does not want to apologize for the downing of the jet, Putin aide Yuri Ushakov said on Friday.
Erdogan said Turkey downed the jet as a result of what he called the automatic enforcement of the rules of engagement.
Russia’s lower house speaker, Sergei Naryshkin, said on Friday that Moscow had the right to make a military response, calling the incident an “intentional murder of our soldiers”.