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[ANKARA] Russia began trade retaliation against Turkey for downing one of its warplanes over Syria as President Vladimir Putin prepared to hold talks with French leader Francois Hollande on combating Islamic State militants.
Agricultural products from Turkey will be subjected to additional border checks and laboratory controls after 15 per cent of goods were found to breach Russian requirements, Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev said in an e-mailed statement Thursday.
The clampdown follows complaints from customers and industry groups about "repeated violations of Russian standards by Turkish producers," MR Tkachev said.
The announcement came as Hollande is due in Moscow Thursday to advance his proposal for an alliance with Russia and the US against Islamic State. Russia said Turkey may have planned the shooting down Tuesday of its aircraft, which Putin called "a stab in the back from accomplices of terrorism." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said "we certainly don't have any idea to escalate this issue" as he maintained that the jet was shot down after failing to heed multiple warnings and crossing into his nation's airspace.
There have been about 40 cases of banned and harmful substances found in Turkish animal products this year, MR Tkachev said. Excessive traces of pesticides, nitrates and nitrites have also been registered in fruits and vegetables, according to the statement.
Georgia, which is on the transit route between the two countries, said Russian officials have started to bar Turkish trucks at the Larsi customs point. As many as 29 vehicles are stranded at the border while many others have diverted to Azerbaijan after being turned away by Russia, Khatia Moistrapishvili, an official at the Georgian Revenue Service, said by phone in Tbilisi on Thursday.
The action against Turkish food imports follows a call by Russia's Federal Tourism Agency late Tuesday for tour operators to halt sales of trips to Turkey, citing the risk of terrorism in a country visited by millions of Russian tourists every year. Russia also announced a ban on poultry imports from Turkey's CP Standart Gida Sanayi ve Ticaret ASA supplier starting Dec 1, Interfax reported Wednesday.
While Mr Putin has ruled out military retaliation against Turkey, a NATO member, the first direct clash between foreign powers embroiled in the Syrian civil war has highlighted dangers the conflict could spiral into a broader one since Russia began air attacks there Sept. 30 in support of President Bashar al- Assad.
Mr Hollande's mission to Moscow has been complicated by the plane incident as he seeks to unite forces against Islamic State following the terrorist attacks in Paris Nov 13 that killed 130 people. He said at talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday that he'll press Putin to refocus strikes on Islamic State.
The US embassy in Moscow said on Thursday that Russia's decision to deploy an S-400 air-defense system to protect aircraft at the base its forces use in Syria's Latakia complicates the situation, according to the Interfax news service. Islamic State doesn't have an air force and the embassy said it hoped the anti-aircraft system won't target the US-led coalition that's also bombing Islamic State in Syria, Interfax reported.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday added to the calls for calm from the US and France, warning in Berlin that the downing of the Russian bomber "has further heightened the situation in Syria." Mr Obama said on Tuesday that he'll make it a "top priority" to prevent the Turkey-Russia standoff from worsening, and focus instead on destroying jihadist groups.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will have talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in Baku Thursday, the APA news service reported, citing Turkey's embassy in Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic that is its closest ally in the Caucasus region. Russia plans 2016 military exercises with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in the Caspian Sea, state-run RIA Novosti reported Thursday, citing the Defense Ministry in Moscow.
Russia has accused Turkish officials of having links to Islamic State's illegal oil trade. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday the Turkish attack on the Russian bomber looked "like a planned provocation" and he questioned whether Turkey was protecting rebel infrastructure in Syria.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appealed to Russia Wednesday to stop bombing "Syrian Turkmen brothers," a reference to rebels in the area of Syria where the plane went down. Backed by Turkey, the Turkmen have been fighting troops loyal to Mr Assad, a Putin ally, and have lost ground to them in recent weeks amid the Russian bombing.