Putin snubs Erdogan in Paris as pilot's body returns to Russia

AFP , Monday 30 Nov 2015

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacts as he attends the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change, on November 30, 2015 at Le Bourget, on the outskirts of the French capital Paris (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin snubbed a meeting with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in France on Monday as the body of a pilot killed when Ankara downed one of Moscow's warplanes returned home.

Turkish authorities meanwhile again pledged not to apologise over last Tuesday's downing of the Russian jet on the Syrian border as Moscow rolled out its sanctions aimed at exacting economic revenge on Ankara.

Putin and Erdogan have been locked in a furious war of words since the incident and the Kremlin strongman rejected the Turkish leader's offer of face-to-face talks on the sidelines of a climate summit outside the French capital.

"No meeting with Erdogan is planned. There is no discussion of such a meeting," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

The downing of the Russian jet on the Turkey-Syria border -- the first time a NATO member has shot down a Russian plane since 1952 -- has seen ties shattered between the two rival players in the Syria conflict.

Putin did meet with US President Barack Obama, who "expressed his regret" over the loss of life in the plane downing and called for a "de-escalation between Russia and Turkey", a White House official said.

Russia on Monday laid out more details of retaliatory economic sanctions aimed at denting Turkey's key tourism and agricultural sectors.

Moscow announced it will halt fruit and vegetable imports from Turkey after Putin signed a decree over the weekend banning charter flights and the sale of package holidays, and scrapping Russia's visa-free regime with the country.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the moves a "first step" as Moscow also said it would limit Turkish transport firms and tighten controls on construction contracts.

The authorities however stopped short of targeting Russia's major joint energy projects with Turkey.

The announcement on the economic reprisals came as the body of pilot Oleg Peshkov, who was killed when the plane was shot down, arrived back in Russia from Ankara.

A plane carrying the corpse of Peshkov -- who was posthumously awarded Russia's highest award -- was met by Russia's defence minister outside Moscow after the body was bought from Syria to Turkey and handed over to Russian diplomats.

Both pilots aboard the Su-24 warplane ejected and parachuted to the ground on the Syrian side of the border after being shot down by Turkish F-16s in the November 24 incident.

Moscow's defence ministry said Peshkov was shot dead from the ground while his comrade Konstantin Murakhtin was rescued by Russian and Syrian special forces. One Russian serviceman was also killed trying to rescue the pilot.

Local reports said Peshkov will be buried Wednesday after his body arrives in his hometown Lipetsk, an industrial city in central Russia.

After the downing of its jet Moscow has bolstered its firepower in Syria -- where it is flying a bombing campaign at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- and on Monday said its planes were now equipped with air-to-air missiles.

Russian media has portrayed the handover of the remains as a goodwill gesture on the part of Ankara after several days of heated rhetoric over the downing.

But as the pilot's body was flown back, the diplomatic tit-for-tat rumbled on with neither side looking set to back down.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted once again that Ankara would not apologise over the downing of the plane.

"Protection of our airspace, our border is not only a right but a duty for my government and no Turkish premier or president ... will apologise (for) doing our duty," he told a joint press conference with NATO head Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels.

Davutoglu decried Russia's sanctions against Turkey and called on Moscow to "reconsider these measures in both our interests", while reiterating once again Ankara's willingness to talk.

"If the Russian side wants to talk, we are ready; if they want more information, we are ready; if they want to normalise relations, we are ready to talk," he said.

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