Recent attacks on Russia’s Khmeimim Airbase in Syria were a provocation aimed at undermining the country’s relations with its partners Turkey and Iran and the peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis, Vladimir Putin said.
“Those were provocations aimed at disrupting the earlier agreements, in the first place. Secondly, it was about our relations with our partners – Turkey and Iran. It was also an attempt to destroy those relations,” the Russian President said during a meeting with the editors-in-chief of Russian papers and news agencies in Moscow. “We have a perfect understanding of that and will act in solidarity.”
“There were provocateurs there, but they were not Turks,” Putin said, refuting earlier reports saying the attacks on the Russian airbase were carried out by Turkoman units backed by Ankara. “We know who they are. We know whom and how much they paid for these provocations,” Putin said, without naming the organizers of the attacks.
Russian military sites in Syria were targeted in two major attacks in the past two weeks, one on New Year’s Eve and another on January 6. The first assault, reportedly carried out by an infiltration squad armed with mortars, resulted in two Russian servicemen being killed and damage to warplanes at Khmeimim Airbase. The second involved 13 drones armed with bomblets, which were all either shot down or forced to land via means of electronic warfare by Russian forces.
According to the head of state, the attacks on Khmeimim Airbase were “well-prepared.”
“We know when and where those unmanned aerial vehicles were handed over and how many there were,” he said.
“Those aircraft were only camouflaged – I want to emphasize this – to look like handicraft production. In fact, it is quite obvious that there were elements of high-tech nature there,” Putin said.
Before his Thursday meeting with Russian media chiefs, Putin held a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which the Khmeimim attacks were discussed. During the conversation, Putin and Erdogan agreed to “intensify the coordination of efforts by the military and special services of the two countries in order to effectively combat terrorist groups in Syria.”
Relations between Moscow and Ankara have gone through a rough patch after the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian Su-24 bomber, which was involved in anti-terrorist operations in Syria, in November 2014. One Russian pilot was killed in the incident. Turkey said the jet had violated its airspace, but Russia denies the claim.
Russia and Turkey were able to restore ties since then and, together with Iran, are currently the guarantors of the peace process in Syria in accordance with the so-called Astana format. The talks in the Kazakh capital in May led to the creation of four de-escalation zones in Syria, which led to a major in reduction in violence in the war-torn country.