By Andrew Osborn and Polina Devitt
MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin is fully mobilized to tackle what the Kremlin regards as an unprecedented threat from Turkey following the shooting down of one of its warplanes by a Turkish F-16, the Russian leader’s spokesman said on Saturday.
In comments which underscore how angry the Kremlin still is over the incident, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, called the behavior of the Turkish air force “absolute madness” and said Ankara’s subsequent handling of the crisis had reminded him of the “theater of the absurd.”
“Nobody has the right to traitorously shoot down a Russian plane from behind,” Peskov told Russia’s “News on Saturday” TV program, calling Turkish evidence purporting to show the Russian SU-24 jet had violated Turkish air space “cartoons”.
In another sign of tensions after its shooting down of the Russian plane on Tuesday, which resulted in the death of one of the pilots, Turkey’s foreign ministry advised people on Saturday to postpone all non-urgent travel to Russia.
Peskov said the crisis had prompted Putin, whose ministers are preparing retaliatory economic measures against Turkey, to “mobilize” in the way an army does in tense times.
“The president is mobilized, fully mobilized, mobilized to the extent that circumstances demand,” said Peskov.
“The circumstances are unprecedented. The gauntlet thrown down to Russia is unprecedented. So naturally the reaction is in line with this threat.”
President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey will not apologize for downing the jet, but he said on Saturday that the incident had saddened him and that the climate change summit in Paris next week could be a chance to repair relations with Moscow.
“Confrontation will not bring anyone happiness. As much as Russia is important for Turkey, Turkey is important for Russia,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in the western city of Baliksehir.
Peskov said Putin was aware of a Turkish request for him to meet Erdogan on the sidelines of the Paris conference but gave no indication of whether such a meeting would take place.
Peskov denied Turkish press reports which said Moscow and Ankara had struck a deal for their warplanes to stop flying along the Syrian-Turkish border, saying military ties between the two countries had been severed and a hot line meant to avoid misunderstandings among their pilots dismantled.
Peskov, according to the TASS news agency, also spoke of how Erdogan’s son had a “certain interest” in the oil industry. Putin has said oil from Syrian territory controlled by Islamic State militants is finding its way to Turkey.
Erdogan has spoken of slander and asked anyone making such accusations to back up their words with evidence.
Peskov said he “noted” that Turkey’s newly-appointed energy minister, Berat Albayrak, was Erdogan’s son-in-law.
He added that there could be up to 200,000 Turkish citizens on Russian soil. “What’s important is that everyone who is able to use their influence to guarantee at least some predictability in the pattern of Turkey’s behavior,” Peskov said.
“Russian planes should never be shot down.”
(Additional reporting by Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul, Tulay Karadeniz and Dasha Afanasieva in Ankara; Editing by Dominic Evans)
A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia’s Defence Ministry November 26, 2015, shows Russian S-400 defense missile systems (R) driving on the tarmac of Hmeymim airbase in Syria. REUTERS/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via Reuters