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Russia to halt visa-free status for visiting Turks

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Moscow is to suspend its visa-free agreement with Turkey at the beginning of next year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

Friday’s announcement comes as tensions mount after the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey earlier this week.

Russia has ruled out any military response against NATO member Turkey, but it has pledged broad retaliatory measures targeting entire sectors of the Turkish economy, including tourism, agriculture and investments.

On Thursday, two Turkish businessmen with investments in Russia told Al Jazeera that Russian police have been raiding Turkish companies in different regions of the country and, in some cases, have suspended their operations.

Moscow has also started sending back Turkish trucks loaded with exports at the border and stopped Turkish tourists – who normally do not need visas – entering the country, at least two businessmen said.

“A decision has been made to halt the visa-free regime with Turkey,” Lavrov told reporters after talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem in Moscow.

“This decision will enter into force from January 1, 2016.”

Ankara said the Russian plane crossed into its airspace on Tuesday, despite repeated warnings over a five-minute period, while Moscow insists it was over Syrian territory at all times.

One Russian pilot died, apparently from Syrian rebel gunfire after he ejected, while the other landed safely and was picked up by Russian and Syrian special forces.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he wanted to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris at the sidelines of a climate summit.

Moscow has so far not commented on Erdogan’s suggestion.

Putin earlier warned citizens not to travel to Turkey, whose affordable beaches are hugely popular with Russian holidaymakers, and the foreign ministry on Thursday urged Russians who are already in Turkey to come home, citing “existing terrorist threats.”

“Threats from this country are quite real,” Putin said, adding that “fighters” were passing through Turkey “in all directions”.

“Russia is quite concerned with increasing terrorist threats in the Republic of Turkey,” he said. “This is directly linked to the safety of Russia and our citizens.”

He added that Turkey this year deported more than 200 Russian nationals, most often to third countries including those conducting “policies that are hostile towards Russia”.


On Thursday, Oleg Safonov, the head of Russia’s state tourism agency Rostourism, said that Russian tourists spend an estimated $151m in Turkey annually.

“Now Turkey would not get this money, it will remain in Russia and will facilitate the development of internal tourism,” he said.

As of November 26, there were more than 9,900 Russian tourists in Turkey.

“Not a single Russian tourist will remain in Turkey by December 26, 2015,” the tourism agency said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday gave his ministers two days to work out a plan to curb cooperation with Turkish companies.

Russia also said it would tighten checks on food imports over alleged safety standard violations.

Economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev said he did not rule out that the retaliatory measures could hit two major projects with Turkey – the planned TurkStream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant.

Dozens of Turkish protestors shouted slogans against Russia during a protest against Russia after Friday prayers in Istanbul. Al Jazeera

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