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Angry Russians Burn Turkish Flag And Vow Retaliation For Downed Plane

A demonstration in Moscow at the Turkish embassy turned violent, and people called for the government to punish Turkey hard.

by Alec Luhn
Nov 25 2015, 9:35pm

Russians burn a Turkish flag during a rally in front of the Turkish embassy in Moscow on Wednesday. Photo by Maxim Shipenkov

Promising a harsh response to the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey the day before, Russian president Vladimir Putin deployed powerful S-400 surface-to-air missiles to the Latakia airbase in Syriaon Wednesday, and his warplanes continued strikes in the area.

But even that response wasn't enough to satisfy some in Russia, which has seen an outpouring of grief for the two men killed in the incident as well as fury over the actions of Turkey, which says it shot down the Su-24 jet after it ignored repeated warnings to turn away from Turkish airspace. Russia denies the fighter-bomber entered Turkey.

"Putin is too soft, too delicate … Just try to do that when Brezhnev was in power. Five minutes and Turkey wouldn't exist," said a pensioner who would give his name only as Yevgeny, referring to the Soviet leader of the 1970s and '80s.

"At the very least, our guys would have flown in there and bombed them," said his wife Lyudmila, as they stood near a statue commemorating military service outside the Defense Ministry in Moscow. Passersby have covered the statue in roses and candles in memory of the pilot who was shot by Syrian rebels as he parachuted to the ground and the marine who died during the operation that rescued the plane's navigator.

Related: Turkey's Nationalist Media Has a Field Day After Russian Plane Shootdown

Early on Wednesday, dozens of protesters trashed the outside of the Turkish embassy in Moscow, hurling rocks, eggs, tomatoes and paint and breaking several windows. They also burned a Turkish flag. Some of them were from a nationalist movement that held a counter-protest during a rally against Russia's air campaign in Syria in October. 10 people at the embassy protest were detained by police.

Signs taped to the embassy and fences erected around it read, "Erdogan is a murderer!," "Hands off Syria!" and "Turkey! You'll be left without gas!," referring to the fact that Turkey imports more than half of its natural gas from Russia. A hand-drawn picture featured a Russian jet superimposed on a Turkish flag that was dripping blood and the words, "Stab in the back," referring to Putin's description of the downing of the jeton Tuesday.

A Russian hashtag meaning "#StabInTheBack" was also trending on Twitteron Tuesday andWednesday, and Sputnik, a Kremlin-controlled news agency targeting foreign audiences, later started promoting an English-language version, "#backstabbed."

Russian state television unleashed a slew of negative coverage at Turkeyon Wednesday, with Rossiya 24 airing footage of Erdogan in 2012 declaring that airspace violations in Syria were no reason to shoot down a plane. A correspondent in Istanbul said that "public opinion in Turkey has changed to coldness." "They're cynically saying, yes we shot down the Russian plane, almost without pity," she said.

The anger was felt on the Russian internet as well. Dozens were leaving one-star reviews of the Turkish Embassy in Moscow and angry comments on Google Mapson Wednesday, calling president Recep Tayyip Erdogan an "ally of terrorists" and Turkey "scum." One even threatened to "open hunting season on Turks" to take revenge.

"Pray and repent! If not, Russia will tear you apart. And NATO won't help you," a user named Alexander Shatov wrote.

"Now the whole world knows your true face, Erdogan. You're an ally of terrorists. Not one clear-thinking Russian will travel to a country ruled by a greedy bandit," a user named Oleg wrote.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has advised not to travel to Turkey, one of Russia's most popular holiday destinations, especially after flights to Egypt were suspended over the bombing of a Russian airliner there in October. Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the international affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, called on Russians to "send Turkey a message" and cancel plans to travel there for pleasure or business.

Some Russians at the statue outside the defense ministry said they were ready to heed these calls. Lyudmila and Yevgeny, who once went on vacation in Turkey before, said they would "definitely not" return. Car sales manager Alexei Kononev, who was laying flowers on the monument, said he wouldn't vacation in Turkey either for the time being.

Related: Even Russian Opposition Bloggers Are Outraged by Turkey's Warplane Attack

Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the independent pollster Levada Center, said most Russians would "welcome a new Iron Curtain" and any sanctions against Turkey, since many view the attack on the plane as a "direct provocation and a test of how ready the country is to take decisive action" to protect its interests. The "insult" Russians felt after the jet was shot down would be more important than luxuries like traveling to an Antalya beach resort, and support for Russia's military campaign in Syria would likely increase, he said. A Levada poll after the Paris attacks earlier this month already found that 47 percent were in favour of ramping up military operations in Syria.

"There will be many more for increasing military operations than against, because the feeling is that you can't give in to blackmail, you can't give into provocation by other side, you need to independently continue your policy, even if this leads to a worsening of the situation in the short term," Grazhdankin said.

"It's a war, there will be casualties," Kononev said when asked if the death of the pilot and marine, Russia's first official military losses in Syria, would cause him to reconsider his support for the intervention there. "It's either small casualties there or big casualties here."

Putin and other officials have frequently argued that the Russian campaign in Syria, ostensibly directed at ISIS but in fact far more focused on supporting the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, is needed to preempt the threat of terrorist attacks in Russia.

"We need to stand our ground," said Akhmed Ikramov, a doctor. "The decision (to fight in Syria) was made by people we believe and trust, the president and the government."

Not everyone laying flowers at the statue backed Russia's involvement in the war in Syria. A housewife who would give her name only as Natalya said Putin bore responsibility for the deaths of the servicemen.

"If the commanders' kids would be the ones carrying out the orders, would be the ones flying there, would they have gotten involved in Syria?" she asked.

"If someone wants war, he'll find it anywhere, and these people will pay with their lives," she added, gesturing at the portrait of the pilot and marine that had been placed on the statue.

But others were calling for retaliation against Turkey, if not militarily then through economic or political measures.

"We're remembering the Ottoman empire 500 years ago. They were that way then and that's how they stayed, attacking from behind," Yevgeny said. "They need to be punished. All aggressor countries will be punished sooner or later."

Follow Alec Luhn on Twitter: @ASLuhn