Sunday, 6 December 2015

Putin seeks to shake up NATO with Turkey sanctions

MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin imposed economic sanctions on Turkey on Saturday in response to the downing of a Russian fighter jet, apparently aiming to both strengthen his authority at home and tilt negotiations over Syria in his favor.A U.S.-led coalition that includes European countries and Turkey is combating the Islamic State militant group. European countries and the U.S., seeking Russia's cooperation to contain the organization, are keeping a close eye on escalating tensions between Ankara and Moscow. "The gauntlet thrown down to Russia is unprecedented. So naturally the reaction is in line with this threat," Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said Saturday, referring to the sanctions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintained Saturday that Turkey's actions were legitimate while lamenting the death of a pilot of the downed aircraft, apparently trying to seek common ground to ease tensions. The sanctions were signed shortly after Erdogan's speech, likely to indicate that Russia will not accept anything short of a clear apology.The incident Tuesday marked the first time since the 1950s that a NATO member had shot down a Soviet or Russian military aircraft. Putin was quick to criticize Turkey, which had sought support from NATO. At a news conference Thursday, he went so far as to suggest U.S. involvement.Putin, a nationalist who cut his teeth in the KGB, has not shied away from confrontation with the U.S. or Europe to protect Russian interests. With this incident increasingly looking like a conflict with NATO, Putin likely worries that an unclear resolution could bring a loss of public and military support.The Russian president also aims to push talks on the Syrian civil war in a more advantageous direction. Turkey, which has supported Syrian rebels, is seeking the immediate ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Putin may assume that weakening Turkey's position will help pave the way for a resolution that would better serve Russian interests.But Turkey accounts for a fifth of Russia's natural gas exports. A diplomatic chill could deal a blow to Russia's already wobbly economy. Russian news agency TASS reported Friday that former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who is close to Putin, urged caution with the sanctions. Some of the measures "may lead to a significant deterioration" of Russian industries, he warned.

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