A Russian warship fired warning shots at a Turkish fishing vessel in the Aegean Sea and Moscow summoned the Turkish military attaché, in the latest outbreaks of tension between the two countries.
The Smetllivy, a guided missile destroyer in the Russian Mediterranean Fleet, warned the fishing vessel over radio, then with flares and finally with a warning shot at around 600 meters, the Russian government said, in order to avoid a collision.
The Russian defence ministry said the Turkish vessel had come dangerously close to the Russian ship, failed to respond to its warnings or made radio contact, changing course only after the warning shots.
In a statement the ministry said that Anatoly Antonov, deputy defence minister, scolded the Turkish defence attaché “about the potentially disastrous consequences from Ankara’s reckless actions against a Russian military contingent which was fulfilling a mission in the fight against international terrorism in Syria”.
While Moscow says its military campaign in Syria is targeted at Isis and other jihadi groups, many western countries depict it as little more than a bid to shore up President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkish officials did not respond to a request for comment; Mevlut Cavusoglu, foreign minister, told TRT-World, a state-supported channel, that Turkey was investigating the incident, which follows a rapid deterioration of ties between Moscow and Ankara.
The two countries had previously co-operated across a range of areas, notably energy, since Russia is Turkey’s principal natural gas supplier, and had been planning to build its first nuclear reactor as well as a new pipeline to pump gas through Turkish territory to Greece and other EU states.
But tensions have recently soared between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, both of whom have committed significant resources to opposing players in the civil war in Syria.
Turkish F-16’s shot down a Russian Sukhoi fighter jet last month, after it strayed briefly into Turkish airspace while bombing a group of Turkmen rebels in northern Syria that Turkey has supported.
Since then, Russia has slapped limited sanctions on Turkey, hitting the country’s tourism trade and agricultural exports, and threatened more, while accusing Mr Erdogan’s family of benefiting financially from oil sales by Isis. Turkey firmly rejected the accusations, and last week, accused Russia of “ethnic cleansing” in the region of north-west Syria where the Russian jet was downed.
The presence of two separate coalitions on the Syrian battlefield – a US-led group that includes Turkey on one side and Iran and Russia on the other – has long prompted fears of accidents or unintentional confrontations.
Turkish fighter jets have stopped flying over Syrian skies as part of the US-led coalition – a move that may have been hastened by Russia’s decision to shift batteries of surface-to-air missiles to Syria following the downing of its jet.