Turkey signals joint defense plan with Russia

– Foreign minister says NATO member will establish military, intelligence system

– Turkey and Russia will establish a joint military, intelligence and diplomacy mechanism Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday, reported Anadolu Agency.

Speaking at Anadolu Agency’s Editors’ Desk, Cavusoglu said the previous day’s meeting between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin had paved the way for closer ties following a seven-month freeze after the shooting down of a Russian jet.

“The officials will go to St.Petersburg tonight,” Cavusoglu said. “Our delegation will consist of the foreign ministry, Turkish Armed Forces, along with our intelligence chief.”

Cavusoglu said meetings will be held at ministerial level.

Erdogan’s trip to Russia and the revival of ties between Russia and Turkey has sparked concern that the NATO member is turning increasingly to the East as it feels rebuffed by the West over a host of issues such as EU membership and the West’s tepid response to the July 15 attempted coup.

Referring to the November 24 downing of a Russian warplane over the Turkey-Syria border by the Turkish Air Force, Cavusoglu explained that both Turkish pilots involved in the incident had been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the coup bid.

“Some of the pilots, who were involved in the downed Russian jet incident, are remanded in custody right now,” he said. “This is because of the allegation of being members of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization, not because they were involved in the incident. The judiciary will look into the case in every aspect and evaluate.”

Turkey says the coup attempt was organized by supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fetullah Gulen and has called for his extradition, another source of Turkey’s exasperation with the West.

The shooting down of the Russian jet led to a freeze in relations, including economic sanctions and a bar on Russian tourism to Turkey, that only thawed in June when Erdogan wrote to his counterpart and the two later spoke by telephone.

On June 30, Russia lifted a ban on tourist flights and Cavusoglu met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Russian city of Sochi on July 1.

Putin gave his support to Turkey over the coup attempt and said he stood by the elected government, offering his condolences to the victims of what Erdogan called the “most heinous” armed coup attempt in modern Turkish history.