Turkey's pro-Kurdish party leader to visit Moscow this week

AFP , Monday 21 Dec 2015

The leader of Turkey's opposition pro-Kurdish Democratic Peoples' Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas (Photo: Reuters)

The leader of Turkey's opposition pro-Kurdish Democratic Peoples' Party (HDP) will meet Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow for talks aimed at reducing tensions after the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkish forces, the party said Monday.

The trip by Selahattin Demirtas -- a key rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- will be the first by a high profile Turkish figure to Russia since the shooting-down of the Russian Su-24 warplane led to a crisis in the two countries' ties unprecedented since the Cold War.

"The spike in tensions with Russia will inflict a heavy price on Turkey," Nazmi Gur, an HDP lawmaker who will accompany the party leader during the trip to Moscow, told AFP.

"Turkey's engulfing itself in problems with its major neighbour will deepen problems including the Syrian crisis. What the peoples of Turkey need is not crisis," he said.

"I hope this initiative (by Demirtas) will help soften relations between Turkey and Russia," he added.

Demirtas had first announced the plan for the trip in an interview with a regional television over the weekend. There is no indication that the trip has been coordinated with the government.

After the November 24 shooting down of the plane, Moscow has imposed a raft of economic sanctions on Ankara. Turkey says the Russian jet has violated several times its airspace but an infuriated Moscow insists it never strayed from the Syrian territory.

Turkey, largely dependent on Russian oil and natural gas, has not hit back with sanctions measures of its own but accused Russia of using every platform to target Ankara since the crisis.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with Lavrov early this month on the sidelines of an international gathering in Belgrade in the first high-level contact between the two sides since the plane was shot down.

Gur also said the HDP was planning to open an office in Moscow, as well as in several European capitals including London and Paris in 2016.

Demirtas, seen as the only politician in Turkey who matches Erdogan's charisma, unsuccessfully challenged the Turkish strongman in 2014 presidential elections.

Ankara is warily watching if Moscow will tighten ties with Kurdish factions in the wake of the plane crisis and in particular whether it allows Syrian Kurds to open an office in Moscow.

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