Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Turkish leaders Thursday over the downing of a Russian warplane even as he called for a unified coalition with the West to fight terrorism in the Middle East.“Only Allah knows why they did it,” Putin said in an hour-long address to Russian lawmakers and other public figures, Russia’s state of the union address. “And I guess Allah decided to punish the ruling clique in Turkey by stripping it of its sanity.”
Putin has sought a central role in brokering a Syrian political settlement with hopes to increase Russian influence abroad and escape isolation. But when Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Su-24 attack aircraft over the Syrian border last week, the incident exposed the explosive potential of the differences among the countries intervening in the nearly five-year-old Syrian civil war.Russia responded with broad economic sanctions targeting $30 billion in trade between Russia and Turkey. The two countries had a reasonably close bilateral relationship, despite Turkey’s membership in the NATO alliance, in the years preceding the incident.“We are not planning to and will not engage in saber-rattling,” Putin said. “But if someone thinks that he can commit a foul war crime, the murder of our people, and just get away with some tomatoes or limits in construction and other spheres, then he is deeply mistaken.”Putin defended his decision to deploy troops and warplanes to Syria in late September, recalling the terrorist attacks committed in Russia since the mid-1990s and adding that Russia must fight terrorism abroad to prevent it from occurring at home.He also took aim at the United States and the West for the wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria, saying they destabilized regions “that looked quite good until recently but are now areas of anarchy.”“We know who . . . decided to change regimes in those countries and impose their own rules,” Putin said. “They destroyed those states and then they washed their hands of it, opening the road to radicals, extremists and terrorists.”The bulk of Putin’s speech was dedicated to economic proposals that touched on a wide range of issues, including corruption, jury reform and economic growth.Russia’s economy has been battered by decreasing energy prices and Western sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.The economic situation “is difficult but not critical,” Putin said, adding that there were “some positive trends.” In particular, he said, Russia’s exchange rate has stabilized, inflation has fallen compared to 2014, and capital flight has decreased.Nonetheless, Russians are deeply aware of the reduced purchasing power of the ruble, which has been hit by double-digit inflation at home and the loss of half its value against the dollar since the crisis began early last year.Putin called on officials to “regard people as our equal partners” and “explain why we are doing what we are doing,” in particular addressing Russia’s bans on food imports.He also issued a series of popular edicts. He extended an amnesty for repatriating capital flight for six more months, seeking to return desperately needed cash from abroad.He extended a benefits program for mothers for two more years. He also said that farmland that is not cultivated by its owners should be sold at auction, adding that Russia should be self-sufficient in farming by 2020.