Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on Friday that Russia would be suspending its visa-free travel agreement with Turkey, in light of Turkey’s decision to shoot down a Russian warplane earlier this week.
The suspension, which will make it harder for Russians to travel to Turkey, is likely to have a significant negative effect on Turkey’s economy.
Russians account for a huge portion of Turkey’s tourism industry. About 3.3 million Russian tourists visited Turkey in 2014, the second-largest number of tourist arrivals after Germany and around 12% of total visitors, according to Reuters.
Additionally, Russia issued an official travel warning on Wednesday advising its citizens against visiting Turkey. And Russian travel agencies announced on Wednesday that they would withdraw their business in Turkey until next year, according to a translation by Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, a Washington, DC-based think tank.
The move marks perhaps the culmination of Moscow’s attempts
to retaliate against Ankara. On Tuesday, Turkey ordered the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 fighter that had allegedly violated Turkish airspace for roughly 17 seconds on Tuesday.
Turkey defended its decision to down the plane on Tuesday, contending that the plane was in Turkish airspace and had been warned repeatedly before it was shot down by Turkish F-16 jets. Turkey released audio of those warnings on Thursday. But Putin said the plane was destroyed by a Turkish missile while flying in Syrian airspace, roughly a mile from the Turkish border.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the act “criminal,” announcing on Thursday that Russia would place wide-ranging sanctions on “foodstuffs, labour, and services from Turkish companies” in Russia.
The sanctions “could bite into more than $30 billion in trade ties between the two countries, as police here began seizing Turkish products and deporting Turkish businessmen,” Andrew Roth, The Washington Post’s Moscow correspondent, wrote on Thursday.
And on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to pull out of the anti-ISIS fight if Turkey downed another Russian jet.
“We are ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States,” Putin said at a news conference on Thursday with French President Francois Hollande, according to The Guardian.
“But of course incidents like the destruction of our aircraft and the deaths of our servicemen … are absolutely unacceptable.”
On Friday, Erdogan reiterated during a speech in Bayburt, in northeast Turkey, that he didn’t want Turkey’s relations with Russia to suffer.
But, he added: “We very sincerely recommend to Russia not to play with fire.”
Russia has accused Turkey of facilitating the Islamic State’s rise by purchasing oil stolen and produced by the jihadist group in Syria.
“We established a long time ago that large quantities of oil and oil products from territory captured by the Islamic State have been arriving on Turkish territory,” Putin said on Wednesday from the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, before a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Western officials have long harbored suspicions about Turkey’s links to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh. One official told The Guardian’s Martin Chulov in July that a US-led raid on the compound housing ISIS’ “chief financial officer” produced “undeniable” evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members, mainly by purchasing oil from them.
Still, those links have never been confirmed — a point Erdogan made as he shot back on Friday, challenging Russia to provide proof that Turkey had ever engaged in financial dealings with ISIS.
Erdogan added that Russia is supporting the “state terrorism” of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that has “killed 380,000 people,” according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu.
Russia, a staunch ally of Assad, began launching airstrikes in Syria in late September on behalf of the Syrian government. But the lifelines Russia has thrown to Assad have not been limited to military aid.
On Wednesday, the US Treasury sanctioned Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a former president of the autonomous Russian Republic of Kalmykia, for allegedly helping Syria’s central bank avoid international sanctions.
The Treasury Department also sanctioned Syrian businessman George Haswani for using his firm, HESCO Engineering and Construction Co., to purchase oil from the Islamic State on behalf of the Assad regime.
In response to the sanctions, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabokov said Washington should stop playing “geopolitical games.”
Russian officials complained on Thursday that they had not received a “clear apology” from Turkish officials over the downed plane, adding that they would not communicate with Turkey directly until Ankara apologised.
Though he admitted on Thursday that Turkey “may have warned the plane differently” had it known it was a Russian jet, Erdogan has refused to blink.
“I think if there is a party that needs to apologise, it is not us,” he told CNN in an interview from Ankara.
He added: “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologise. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to … violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence.”
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