Russian President Vladimir Putin has continued to lay down the gauntlet to Ankara over Syria, asking whether Turkish jets have been able to fly over Syrian territory since Russia increased its military presence there.
“Do they think we would run away now? Russia is not that kind of country” Putin said during his annual news conference on Dec. 17, speaking of Moscow’s increased military presence in Syria.
“Turkey was flying there all the time before, breaching Syrian airspace. Well, let’s see how they are flying there now” he added, mentioning Russia’s deployment of a sophisticated S-400 air defense system in Syria. “We have increased our presence in Syria, have increased the number of combat aircraft deployed there. There was no Russian air defense system there - now there’s the S-400.”
S-400 air defense systems are known for their large tubular launchers and associated radar and command vehicles.
Ties between Russia and the NATO member have hit rock bottom since the Nov. 24 incident, which led to deaths of two Russian military officers. Turkey has said the Russian jet strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, but Moscow insists it never left Syrian territory.
Putin ruled out any reconciliation with Turkish leaders, accusing Ankara of shooting down a Russian warplane to impress the United States.
In comments littered with crude language, Putin dismissed the possibility that the downing of the warplane over the Turkey-Syria border last month was an accident, calling it a “hostile act.”
“We find it difficult if not impossible to come to an agreement with the current leadership of Turkey” the Kremlin strongman said at his annual news conference.
“On the state level, I don’t see any prospects of improving relations with the Turkish leadership,” he said of Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Putin said he did not rule out that Ankara was acting with tacit approval from Washington, possibly so that the United States would look the other way to let Turkey “go onto Iraqi territory and occupy part of it.”
“I don’t know if there was such a trade-off, maybe there was” Putin said. “If somebody in the Turkish leadership decided to lick the Americans in one place... I don’t know, if they did the right thing.”
Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, Russian operations in Syria would continue “until Syrian forces reach the Euphrates River.” Ruling out the deployment of any Russian ground troops to the area, Shoigu said it was Syrian forces that needed to lay their boots on the border between Syrian and Iraq.
Turkey has announced the western part of the Euphrates as a “red line” and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Oct. 26 that the Turkish army hit the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria twice for violating the red line.