MOSCOW — The furious discord sparked by the Turkish military shooting down Russia's Su-24 jet Tuesday has gained momentum, with Turkey now threatening to intervene in the long-running dispute between Russia's longtime ally Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Considered one of Europe's frozen conflicts, Nagorno-Karabakh was the scene of bloody fighting between 1991 and 1994 that killed tens of thousands during a war between Azerbaijan, where it is situated, and the ethnic Armenian majority who live there.
On the heels of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's explosive comments this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu is in Baku, Azerbaijan, for talks with the government leadership. During a week in which claims and counter-claims between Russia and Turkey escalated — and in a direct challenge to Moscow's ally Armenia — Davutoglu said, "Turkey will do everything possible to liberate the occupied territories of Azerbaijan."
This comment came after Russia indicated that it wants to make Turkey accountable for failing to acknowledge the Ottoman Empire's role in the 1915 Armenian genocide.
This has been a thorn in the side of the relationship between the two countries ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Armenia earlier this year, on the 100th anniversary of the genocide. That was in April, when Turkish authorities froze diplomatic co-operation because they were unhappy at Russia's recognition of the bloodbath.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande at Yerevan's the Genocide memorial on April 24 — Photo: Wei Dafang/Xinhua/ZUMA
Turkey has also reacted angrily to Russia's intention to impose sanctions on its economy and to inflict a political blow to Turkey's image by ending bilateral projects, such as the year of Turkish culture in Russia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would not apologize for shooting down the Russian jet, insisting that the Turkish Air Force acted in accordance with the protocol of dealing with external threats. He added that any future violations would be met with the same response.
Erdogan told the France 24 news network that he tried to contact Putin by phone after the incident, but the Kremlin refused to put him through. Putin has expressed outrage that Turkey has not apologized or offered compensation, saying that Turkey is guilty of "treacherous backstabbing."
Erdogan, who until recently had a relatively good relationship with the Russian leader, has made it clear that he is prepared to see the relationship devolve. But despite the furor, it seems he does want Turkey to remain a Russian partner.
"We have a strategic partnership with Russia, and we have no reason to take aim at Russia," Erdogan said, although he acknowledged the significant differences in the two countries' approaches over Syria.
The Turkish president added that sanctions proposed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were steps "unworthy of politicians."