Turkey’s Prime Minister has called Russia’s air strikes in northern Syria an attempt at “ethnic cleansing” intended to support the leadership of beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“Russia is trying to make ethnic cleansing in the northern Latakia [region] to force [out] all Turkmen and Sunni populations who do not have good relations with the [Syrian] regime,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul on Wednesday, the BBC reported.
Davutoglu also said that Russia’s air strikes are “strengthening” the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
The relationship between Turkey and Russia has been tense since Turkish forces downed a Russian fighter plane near the country’s border with Syria on Nov. 24. Russia denies Turkey’s claims that the plane trespassed in Turkish airspace and is currently investigating the incident.
“Whatever we learn won’t change our attitude to what the Turkish authorities did,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said, according to the BBC. “We used to treat Turkey not only as our friend but also as an ally in the fight against terrorism. Nobody expected this low, treacherous stab in the back.”
Since commencing its aggressive air-strike campaign in September, Russia has maintained that the strikes are aimed at eradicating ISIS and other extremist groups in Syria.
However, analysts and Syrian rebels insist Russia’s real target is anti-Assad forces in the country. In late October, Assad traveled to Moscow for an unannounced meeting with Putin, who described Syria as Russia’s “friend.”