President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled Turkey has no plans to follow its NATO and E.U. allies in expelling Russian diplomats following a spy poisoning in Britain blamed on Moscow, in comments published on Wednesday.
Mr. Erdogan, who has forged an increasingly close alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Turkey could not take steps against Moscow “based on an allegation.”
More than two dozen governments — the majority European Union and NATO members — expelled nearly 150 suspected Russian spies after the March 4 attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.
“Just because some countries took a step based on an allegation, we cannot decide to take the same step,” Mr. Erdogan said in comments to Turkish journalists published by the Hurriyet newspaper and others.
“There is no question that we must act completely like them,” added the president, who earlier this week met E.U. chiefs for a crunch summit in Bulgaria.
London and its allies were quick to put the blame on Russia, which denies any involvement. The discovery that Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok was used against the pair and Russia’s record on targeting dissidents have put the spotlight on the Kremlin.
The Turkish foreign ministry on Monday issued its first statement on the poisoning — over three weeks after the attack — condemning the use of a chemical agent but without mentioning Russia.
Mr. Putin is due to arrive in Turkey next week for a two-day visit that will also include a three-way summit on Syria with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani aimed at strengthening cooperation.
To the alarm of Brussels, ties between Moscow and Ankara have flourished in recent months while Turkey is set to buy Russia’s S-400 air defence systems. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag on Monday stressed the historical regional rivals have a “positive and good relationship right now.”
Moscow and Ankara endured a severe crisis over the shooting down of a Russian warplane over Syria in 2015. But analysts say that Mr. Erdogan has now made a strong relationship with Moscow a pillar of Turkish foreign policy.