Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Turkey’s accusations of Moscow allegedly attempting ethnic cleansing with its airstrikes in northern Syria are “groundless.” Tensions between Ankara and Moscow have escalated over the last month after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border.
"I cannot but comment on the Turkish leadership’s statement, alleging that Russia conducts 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria," Zakharova said, according to Tass, a Russian news agency. "It’s kind of odd to comment on these statements, as they bespeak Turkey’s total detachment from life, from the region’s reality."
"All this has happened not for the first time. Such statements have been made on a regular basis in recent weeks,” Zakharova reportedly added. "These unseemly statements, groundless accusations that we hear from Ankara, speak for themselves. They more and more sound like a display of impotent rage."
On Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reportedly said Russia's campaign targeted Turkmen and Sunni communities around the Latakia region.
"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," Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul, adding that the Russian airstrikes were "strengthening" the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, in Syria.
Russia says its bombers are attacking ISIS and other jihadi groups in Syria, helping the government forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. However, Western analysts and Syrian rebel sources say that most of Russia’s military presence in Syria is aimed at keeping long-term Russian ally Assad in power by targeting anti-Assad groups who are not jihadis.
Meanwhile, as the war of words continue between Moscow and Ankara, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called on British aviation experts to Russia to examine the black box from the Su-24 jet shot down by Turkey in late November. Turkey says the jet was downed because it violated the country’s sovereign airspace. However, the Kremlin denies the allegation.