Russian politicians on Wednesday held talks in Moscow with the leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party, Selahattin Demirtas, who used his visit to criticize Ankara for shooting down a Russian warplane last month.
Russia imposed economic sanctions on Turkey after the Nov 24 incident and has sharply criticized the political leadership of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
The visit by Demirtas, leader of Turkey’s People’s Democratic Party (HDP), is likely to further damage ties between Moscow and Ankara since his party is a staunch political foe of the AK Party Erdogan founded.
Demirtas held closed-door talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It was not immediately clear which other Russian politicians he was meeting.
“We criticized the actions of the government when the Russian plane was shot down,” Russian news agencies quoted him as telling Lavrov.
“From the very first days, we declared as an opposition party in the country, that we do not support the position of worsening relations with Russia,” said Demirtas, who heads Turkey’s most important Kurdish political party.
Media reports quoted him before the visit as saying he wanted to open a representative office for his party in Moscow.
His trip and the warm welcome he was given in Moscow are likely to unnerve Ankara in the light of comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said last week he saw no prospect of mending ties with Turkey’s leadership.
Stratfor, a private US global intelligence think tank, said that by receiving Demirtas “Moscow has found a pressure point in the form of the Kurds”.
“Demirtas wants to show Erdogan that the Kurds are a political force that cannot be sidestepped in elections or crushed in the streets,” it said in analysis published on Wednesday.
“This meeting, the highest-level diplomatic encounter between Russia and Turkey since relations soured last month, comes after the Kremlin refused point blank to reconcile with Ankara.”
Lavrov told Demirtas that Russia would ‘take into account’ his party’s ‘assessments’ regarding the situation in Syria, noting that Moscow was ready to cooperate closely with ethnic Kurds fighting against Islamic State militants.
“We know that there are Iraqi and Syrian Kurds among those who on the ground resist the threat from Islamic State and other extremist groups with weapons in their hands,” he said.