Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "ethnic cleansing" in a part of Syria by trying to oust Turkmen and Sunni Muslims in the region. Moscow's offensive is targeting the local population surrounding the Latakia region in order to protects its military interests, he charged.
The comments have the potential to further sink ties already strained by the downing of a Russian bomber by Turkey. Turkey's fresh accusation came just as Moscow invited British experts to examine the black box recovered from the SU-24 bomber, which was shot down by Turkish jets.
While speaking to international journalists in Istanbul, the Turkish premier said: "Russia is trying to carry out an ethnic cleansing in northern Latakia to force out all Turkmen and the Sunni population who do not have good relations with the regime. They want to expel them, they want to ethnically cleanse this area so that the regime and Russian bases in Latakia and Tartus are protected."
Ankara is angry with Moscow that the Russian forces are targeting Turkmen, an ethnic kin of the Turks, in northern Syria. Davutoglu said Russia's bombing in the region also inflicts heavy damage on anti-Assad groups.
Davutoglu's latest remarks have also been seen as retaliation for Russia's bid to raise Ankara's recent troop deployment in Iraq at a UN meeting. Moscow told the UN Turkey is acting "recklessly and inexplicably" by mobilising its troops inside Iraqi territory without the permission of Baghdad.
The Turkish prime minister said his country is mulling additional counter-measures including economic sanctions against Russia.