MOSCOW - Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has threatened Turkey with unspecified actions in addition to sanctions it already put in place this week for the Turkish military’s shooting down a Russian bomber.
Putin began his annual “state of the nation” speech to Russia’s parliament, the Federal Assembly, Thursday with a moment of silence for two Russian troops killed after the jet was shot down November 24 along Turkey’s border with Syria.
Turkmen rebels shot one pilot while he was parachuting to the ground and a marine after shooting down a helicopter sent for rescue. The wives of the men were in the audience during Putin’s speech.
The Russian president said Allah must be punishing Turkey’s leaders by stripping them of their sanity.
"Our actions will always be guided primarily by responsibility — to our country, to our people," Putin said. "We do not plan to, and will not, saber-rattle. But, if someone thinks that, having committed a vile war crime — the murder of our people — they will get off with [an import ban on] tomatoes or a few restrictions in the construction industry or other sectors, they are profoundly mistaken. We’ll long remind them of what they did. An they’ll long regret their deed. We know what needs to be done."
Russia has already announced bans on a long list of Turkish fruits and vegetables and will halt its reciprocal visa program with Turkey in January.
Russia also cut all military-to-military communications and has threatened to halt investments and big projects in Turkey, including a Russian-built gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant.
Turkey says the Russian warplane ignored numerous warnings not to cross into Turkish air space before it was shot down, while Russia claims it was given no warning and never left Syrian air space.
A war of words erupted between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Putin, who accused Erdogan of stabbing Russia in the back and, more significantly, supporting terrorism.
Putin repeated the accusation that members of Turkey's "ruling elite" benefit from black market oil purchased from Islamic State terrorists.
“We know who it is that profits in Turkey by letting terrorists sell the oil they stole,” he said. “Terrorists use this money to recruit new members and plan new terrorist attacks against our people, people of France, Mali, and other countries,” said Putin.
On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov alleged that Turkey's "highest political leadership," including President Erdogan and members of his family, are involved in illegal oil trade with IS, but provided no evidence to support the claim.
The United States and NATO, the Western military alliance that Turkey belongs to, have backed up Ankara’s version of events connected to the downing of the plan, but have urged both sides to calm down and to focus on defeating IS terrorists in Syria. Russia claims to be targeting Islamic State and other terrorists since its bombing campaign in September, but the U.S.-led coalition against IS and Syrian rebels say Russia has mainly bombed the rebels to help Moscow’s ally — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Call for united anti-terrorism force
In his speech Thursday, the Russian president urged differences be set aside to form a united anti-terrorism force under international law and the United Nations.
“We need to learn from lessons of the past historic perils,” said Putin. “When people were not willing to join forces to fight Nazism, they had to pay the lives of tens of millions of innocent people.” “Today,” he said, “we face this new barbaric ideology and we cannot allow these people to achieve their goals."
Western nations have welcomed the idea of Russia joining the fight against IS, but there is strong disagreement with Moscow’s support for Assad.
Putin heaped familiar blame on Western nations for the situation in the Middle East. However, unlike last year’s speech, it was in veiled and brief comments, and there was no mention of Ukraine.
Among other domestic issues, Putin’s speech focused on ways to improve Russia’s struggling economy as it heads into recession. He noted the economic damage from a severe drop in the price of oil, Russia’s major export, and other commodities, as well as limits on Russia’s international borrowing as a result of sanctions imposed because of its actions in Ukraine.
“I know that we are facing difficult times today and this affects our economy and living standards of our people in general,” he said.
Despite an expected contraction in the economy this year by as much as 4 percent, the Russian president said the situation is not critical.
“Even today we see some positive trends,” said Putin. “The exchange rate has stabilized, the inflation rate is decreasing compared to 2014, and capital flight has been reduced.” But, he quickly added, “[t]his does not mean that we should relax and sit back and wait for the situation to improve miraculously.” He told Russians to be prepared for low commodity prices and external restrictions “for a long period of time.”
President Putin ended his speech by quoting 19th century Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev. “Divided, we will be immediately destroyed. Our strength is in unity.”