Turkey: Russian strikes weakening fight against ISIS

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said only two of Russia’s 57 air strikes in Syria had hit ISIS militants

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Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday that Russian air strikes in Syria were weakening the fight against ISIS and warned that Turkey would not compromise on border security after Russian warplanes violated its air space.

Russian aircraft twice entered Turkish air space at the weekend and Turkey says an unidentified MIG-29 harassed its jets on Monday, prompting the foreign ministry to summon the Russian ambassador three times in protest.

NATO on Tuesday rejected Moscow’s explanation that its warplanes had violated alliance member Turkey’s air space by mistake and said Russia was sending more ground troops to Syria and building up its naval presence.

“The crisis in Syria is not a Turkish-Russian crisis and must not be ... We don’t want this to turn into a Russia-NATO crisis,” Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul, but made clear Turkey would not tolerate further incursions.

“We will not compromise in any way on our border security or the security of our air space.”

Davutoglu said only two of Russia’s 57 air strikes in Syria had hit ISIS militants, while the rest had been against the “moderate” opposition forces.

“The moderate Syrian opposition right now in the north is almost the only force against ISIS on this side of the Jarablus corridor ... If (the Syrian regime) weakens the opposition, it will strengthen ISIS,” he said, warning of the risk of a new refugee flow.

The foreign ministry meanwhile said Turkey was open to the idea of meeting with Russian military officials in Ankara to discuss measures to avoid a repeat of the air space violations.

A spokesman for the ruling AK Party said Turkey would take further violations of its air space as a threat, but viewed a Russian offer to meet and discuss the issue positively.

“We find Russia’s request to ‘come together and explain’ positive. Russia is a friend but if the repeated incursions continue, we will perceive it as a threat and not as friendly behavior,” Omer Celik told reporters.

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