Russia Hits Back, Halts Visa-Free Regime for Turks from January

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to contact Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan because Ankara does not want to apologize for the downing of a Russian warplane, Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s aide, said on Friday.

“We see Turkey’s unwillingness to simply apologize for the incident with the plane,” Ushakov told reporters when asked why Putin has refused to talk with Erdogan.

In a retaliatory move, Russia said it would suspend its visa-free regime for Turkish nationals from Jan. 1.

Russia has pledged broad retaliatory measures targeting entire sectors of the Turkish economy including tourism, agriculture and investments.

“A decision has been made to halt the visa-free regime with Turkey,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters after talks with Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem in Moscow.

“This decision will enter into force from January 1, 2016.”

President Putin earlier warned citizens not to travel to Turkey, whose affordable beaches are hugely popular with Russian holidaymakers, and the Foreign Ministry on Thursday urged Russians who are already in Turkey to come home, citing “existing terrorist threats.”

Lavrov on Friday denied that the decision to suspend the visa-free regime was an act of revenge.

“Threats from this country are quite real,” he said, adding that “fighters” were passing through Turkey “in all directions.”

“Russia is quite concerned with increasing terrorist threats in the Republic of Turkey,” he said. “This is directly linked to the safety of Russia and our citizens.”

He added that Turkey this year deported more than 200 Russian nationals, most often to third countries including those conducting “policies that are hostile toward Russia.”

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday gave his ministers two days to work out a plan to curb cooperation with Turkish companies.

Russia also said it would tighten checks on food imports over alleged safety standard violations.

Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said he did not rule out that the retaliatory measures could hit two major projects with Turkey — the planned TurkStream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant — in a move that looked set to rattle cages in energy-poor Turkey.

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.

“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 Turkey downed the jet as a result of what he called the automatic enforcement of the rules of engagement.

Turkey has “temporarily” suspended air strikes against Daesh targets in Syria after the spat.



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