Moscow: Russian plane crash complicates Syria talks

AP News
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Posted: Dec 01, 2015 9:42 AM
Moscow: Russian plane crash complicates Syria talks

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane near the Syrian border has put a strain on the peace talks for Syria as well as fraying previously warm bilateral ties, Russia's foreign ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

Turkey shot down the jet last week, insisting it violated its airspace despite numerous warnings and has said it will not apologize for the incident that killed a Russian pilot and a Russian marine trying to retrieve the other pilot.

Russia has claimed that Turkey shot down its plane to protect what President Vladimir Putin has described as Turkish profiteering from the oil trade with the Islamic State group. Russia has imposed sanctions against Turkish products.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told The Associated Press that the incident would complicate the peace talks for Syria that are taking place in Vienna.

Russia insists that the talks cannot go ahead until all parties agree on which opposition groups should be covered by a possible cease-fire and which should be targeted by airstrikes.

Zakharova said Moscow was now more determined than ever to get other parties to agree on a list of "terrorist" groups in Syria before the next round of talks. Without that, Zakharova said, a joint action in Syria would not be possible.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday signed into law a set of sanctions including restrictions on Turkish labor and some import bans. While Russia banned imports of such Turkish staples as tomatoes, the ban did not cover nuts and lemons for which Russia relies almost entirely on Turkey. The food ban will come into effect on Jan. 1.

U.S. President Barack Obama urged Turkey and Russia on Tuesday to set aside tensions and focus on the common priority of defeating the Islamic State group.

In a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Paris, Obama vouched for the NATO ally's right to self-defense, and pledged a solid U.S. commitment "to Turkey's security and its sovereignty." Yet he emphasized the need for Turkey and Russia to "de-escalate" their conflict.

"We all have a common enemy. That is ISIL," Obama said, using one of several acronyms for the extremist group. "I want to make sure that we focus on that threat."

On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused Russia of trying to "cover up" its infringement of Turkey's airspace with "unfounded" claims that Turkey is illegally importing oil from the IS. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is prepared to step down if Russia can prove otherwise.

"It is not possible to cover up the violation of the Turkish airspace with unfounded accusations against Turkey," Davutoglu said.

Davutoglu at the same time renewed a call for Russia to keep military and diplomatic channels for dialogue open, saying Russia's stance was turning the Syria crisis into a "crisis between Russia and Turkey."

Zakharova said Russia had intelligence about Turkey buying oil from IS a while ago but preferred not to publicize it.

"We had this information before and we were working with our partners, with Turkey, with the coalition, with our Western colleagues on this matter but we didn't do it publicly," she said. "We tried many times to convince them to change their approach to this matter, to their relationship with various organizations."

Meanwhile, the Russian education ministry said it would repatriate "as soon as possible" Turkish students who are studying in Russia.

The ministry also announced that nearly 50 Russian universities were suspending their cooperation agreements with Turkish counterparts.

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Vasilyeva reported from Moscow; Kate de Pury contributed from Moscow.