We don’t take Putin statements seriously: Turkish PM
Serkan Demirtaş - BRUSSELS / ANKARAPrime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said the Turkish government “does not take seriously” Vladimir Putin’s recent harsh statements, so he will not respond to the Russian president’s “undiplomatic and insulting” remarks in the same manner.
“Perhaps he’s reminiscing about his old KGB days. But the KGB is long gone. The era of Soviet-style propaganda is history. With every statement he makes, the world mocks it sarcastically. We cannot take it seriously,” Davutoğşu told reporters while returning from this week’s trip to Brussels to attend a summit with eight EU leaders.
“[Putin’s] statements do not suit the nature of the modern world or Turkish-Russian relations. So instead of answering his statements in the same manner, I just smile. Taking his statements seriously would be an insult,” he added.
During his recent lengthy, annual meeting with the press, Putin stepped up his already heated rhetoric over the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey on Nov. 24.
In his earlier statements, Putin had accused the Turkish government of “Islamizing Turkey” and engaging in oil trade with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
“It seems that Putin has recalled that Turkey is a Muslim country and we are Islamic leaders,” Davutoğlu said, suggesting that Putin was trying to stir trouble by setting “Islamization” and “Atatürk’s values” in opposition.
“I have already said that Putin’s allegations are Pravda lies and a product Soviet propaganda. When I look at Putin, I don’t see Russia as a country that has gotten over the Cold War and turned into a mature democracy. I see an old-Soviet mentality speaking on behalf of the politburo,” the Turkish prime minister said.
‘Systematic’ ties with EU
Asked about recent intensified dialogue between Turkey and the EU, Davutoğlu described the current state of affairs as a “systematic, result-oriented relationship” that is tied to a specific calendar. He said ties between Ankara and Brussels will be built on three main pillars: Turkey’s EU accession process, the visa liberalization process, and refugee problem. He added that Turkey and eight EU countries, as well as the European Commission, have agreed on a certain calendar to further deepen coordination in dealing with refugee issues.
The summit in Brussels on Dec. 16 will be followed up on Feb. 18, while Turkey will hold high-level bilateral summits with Germany on Jan. 22 and with Greece in mid-February, Davutoğlu stated.
“The refugee issue is the tip of the iceberg. The real threat is growing regional instabilities. If we do not deal with these instabilities now, any measure we take today will be insufficient tomorrow. That is the message I delivered to EU leaders. Unfortunately, there is nothing to be hopeful about the future at the moment,” he added.
During his meetings in Brussels, Davutoğlu accused Russia of trying to force Syrians, mostly opponents of the Bashar al-Assad regime, to flee into Turkey.
“If Russia bombs Raqqa, or bombs DAESH [an Arabic acronym for ISIL], it would not push any refugees to Turkey. But it is currently bombing Azaz and Aleppo, which will spark a new refugee flow into Turkey. Russia’s current bombings are aiming to create more refugees,” he said.
‘Biden didn’t urge us to pull back troops from Iraq’
Another issue on the agenda is the presence of the Turkish military at a base near Mosul, publicized earlier this week, which created tension between Turkey and Iraq. Davutoğlu has spoken with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden twice on the issue, but he denied that Biden had urged Turkey to withdraw troops from Iraq.
“I didn’t get such a statement from Biden. I spoke twice with Biden and he never said such a thing. He advised us to carry out this issue through consensus with Iraq. In fact we all want the same thing anyway,” he said.
Turkey’s security starts from its borders with Iraq and Syria, but because neither country can control their borders Turkey is obliged to step in, Davutoğlu said.
“I wish they could control their borders and our troops were not obliged to go there,” he added.
The prime minister also stated that Ankara and Iraq “agreed in principle” on the Turkish deployment on Iraqi soil to train Iraqi citizens and volunteers, which is why he did not seek Iraqi consent for the most recent deployment.
‘No surrender’ to terrorism
Regarding ongoing military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey, Davutoğlu stressed that the government was doing “everything” it could not to prolong the operation, which only aims to “clear the region of terrorists.”
Indefinite curfews continue to be imposed on the towns of Cizre and Silopi in Şırnak province, as the security forces clash with PKK-affiliated urban-based groups who have set up roadblocks.
“We are exerting efforts not to affect civilians. But these operations will continue in Cizre and Silopi until we get results. There will be no pull back until all these roadblocks are cleared. The security forces will stay there. Every street will be taken under control if necessary and it will be made clear to terrorist organizations that Turkey will not surrender to terrorism,” he stressed.
Davutoğlu sought to emphasize that the government is working on a “comprehensive package” to heal the damage to civilians in the region, especially to students after the suspension of education in affected areas.
“The best conditions will be created for them – even in the west of Turkey if necessary. If even one second of their education is lost, it will be compensated. We want to win the hearts of these children and these people. We must make local people feel that the state is siding with them. I will speak to my friends in our cabinet meeting on Monday and will likely announce mew measures on Tuesday,” he said, adding that the government is also planning to hold a cabinet meeting in Diyarbakır soon.
‘Books can’t be confiscated’
The prime minister was also questioned about the controversial recent local court decision to confiscate books by two prominent journalists, Hasan Cemal and Tuğçe Tatari, after they were found during an operation on a cell where suspected militants of the outlawed Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) were detained.
The Third Criminal Court of Peace in Gaziantep province ruled for all copies of three books focusing on the Kurdish problem by Cemal and Tatari to be confiscated, after deciding to remove them from bookstores.
Davutoğlu criticized the ruling, describing it as a “habit of the old times.”
“My position is clear on this: I do not excuse and I do not find it right to confiscate any book, even if it holds views in complete contradiction with mine - unless it insults someone’s personal rights. I think this is a habit of old times,” he said.
On the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey, an issue that returned to the headlines after the recent arrest of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, senior editors of daily Cumhuriyet, Davutoğlu said he was “in principle” against arrest pending trial unless absolutely necessary.
“This is a civilized country and my understanding of justice is in line with this. Someone is guilty only after a final verdict is given. There is no need to punish them before the decision is given,” he said, while stressing that he “cannot intervene in the judicial process” as that would be a violation of the separation of powers.