Turkish PM seeks to reduce tensions with Russia

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet DavutogluTurkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is seeking to reduce tensions with Moscow, saying that Russia is Turkey’s “friend and neighbor” and insisting relations cannot be “sacrificed to accidents of communication.”

Davutoglu told his party’s lawmakers on Wednesday that Turkey didn’t know the nationality of the plane that was brought down on Tuesday until Moscow announced it was Russian.

He again defended Turkey’s action, saying Russia was warned on several occasions that Turkey would take action in case its border is violated in line with its military rules of engagement.

Davutoglu also said Russia is an “important partner and tops the list of countries with which we have shown great sensitivity in building ties.”

The Turkish prime minister, however, also criticized Russian and Syrian operations in Syria’s Turkmen region, saying there is “not one single” presence of the Islamic State group there. Davutoglu demanded that operations there stop immediately.

Syria’s army is confirming that it has rescued a Russian pilot whose plane was shot down by Turkey in an overnight “qualitative” joint operation with Russian forces.

A statement issued Wednesday by the Syrian armed forces says Syrian and Russian forces penetrated into areas where “terrorists” are entrenched at a depth of 4.5 kilometers (2.7 miles) to rescue the pilot.

Syria’s government refers to all rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad as terrorists. The statement added that the rescued pilot is in “good health.” Russian officials have also confirmed the rescue operation.

The other pilot of the Su-24 jet downed Tuesday by Turkey was reported dead and his body captured by Syrian rebels in an area known as the Turkmen Mountain in Syria’s Latakia province.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the downing of a Russian warplane “has further aggravated the situation in Syria.” She told lawmakers in parliament on Wednesday that “we have to do everything now to avoid a further escalation.”

Merkel says she had spoken to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in a telephone call Tuesday. She adds that only a long-term political solution will end the conflict in Syria. She says “there is no other way that will bring us closer to a lasting solution

Russian President Vladimir Putin says a second pilot from a Russian warplane that was shot down by Turkey near the Syrian border has been rescued. He was speaking in televised comments on Wednesday after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian news agencies that the man was rescued in a 12-hour operation which ended in the early hours on Wednesday and is now “safe and sound” at Russia’s air base in the government-controlled area in Syria.