A Russian Sukhoi Su-34 bomber lands at the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015 /AFP
Turkey on Saturday accused Russia of a fresh violation of its airspace, warning Moscow it would “face consequences” as relations between the two countries hit a new post-Cold War low.
The Turkish foreign ministry said a Russian Su-34 plane violated Turkish airspace at 0946 GMT on Friday despited repeated warnings from Turkish air radar units in Russian and English.
The Russian defence ministry dismissed the claim as “baseless propaganda”.
Ties between Ankara and Moscow plummeted after Turkey, a key NATO member, shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border in November, sparking a war of words with Russia which insisted its plane had not crossed into Turkish airspace.
Russia launched a massive air campaign in Syria in September against rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time Moscow ally whom Turkey bitterly opposes.
Ankara on Friday summoned the Russian ambassador to the foreign ministry to “strongly protest and condemn” the latest alleged airspace violation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russia would “have to face consequences if it keeps up such violations”.
“Such irresponsible steps do not benefit either the Russian Federation, or Russia-NATO relations, or regional and global peace”, he told reporters at an Istanbul airport before setting off for a Latin America tour.
He also said he had asked to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss the crisis in their relationship, although it was not immediately clear if the request came after the latest airspace incident.
The Turkish strongman has in recent weeks repeatedly, and in vain, called for a meeting with the Russian leader.
“I’ve asked our foreign ministry undersecretary that I want to meet with Mr Putin but our embassy there has informed us here that there’s been no response from (Russia) since then,” said Erdogan.
– ‘NATO solidarity’ –
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile called on Russia to “act responsibly and to fully respect NATO airspace”.
“Russia must take all necessary measures to ensure that such violations do not happen again,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.
“Previous incidents have shown how dangerous such behaviour is”.
But Russia insisted there had been no violation of Turkish airspace.
“The Turkish declarations concerning the alleged violation of its airspace by a Russian Su-34 are baseless propaganda,” defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies.
A Russian embassy spokesman confirmed its ambassador had been summoned but declined to comment on the meeting.
“We will not comment on the subject of discussions with his colleagues at the foreign ministry,” spokesman Igor Mityakov told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
The Turkish foreign ministry did not specify where the latest violation took place although it is likely to have been close to the Syrian border where Russian troops are operating.
“This violation is a new and concrete indicator of Russian Federation actions to escalate problems despite clear warnings from our country and NATO,” the ministry said.
Relations between Moscow and Ankara are at their lowest ebb in decades, triggered by the November 24 downing of the Russian jet which infuriated Moscow.
Putin has vowed that Turkey will be made to regret the incident, with the Kremlin announcing sanctions including a ban on the import of some foods and a halt on sales of holiday packages, a major blow to Turkish tourism.
The two countries also back opposing sides in Syria’s almost five-year civil war, with Russia the key supporter of the Damascus regime while Turkey argues that the ouster of Assad is essential to solving the Syrian crisis.
Last year Turkey started flights to Syria to bomb Islamic State positions in the war-torn country as part of the international air campaign against the jihadist group.
But Turkish media reported that the Turkish airforce suspended missions of its aircraft over Syria in the aftermath of the downing of the Russian jet to avoid further controversy with Russia.
Stoltenberg on Saturday made clear that NATO would stand by Turkey, the second largest military power in the alliance after the United States.
“NATO stands in solidarity with Turkey and supports the territorial integrity of our ally, Turkey.”