Moscow: Russia on Thursday suspended all military contacts with Turkey as ties between the two countries plummeted after the downing of a Russian warplane, the defense ministry said.
“Today (Thursday), all cooperation contacts have been suspended between Russian defense ministry and the Turkish Armed Forces…including the so-called hotline set up in order to avoid incidents during Russia’s air campaign against terrorist infrastructure in Syria,” the ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters.
Konashenkov said the Turkish side refused to hand the Russian military attache any materials on the downing of Russia’s Su-24 jet, Xinhua news agency reported.
Russian air force has ratcheted up attacks against terrorist targets in areas where one of the two pilots of the downed jet was rescued, said the spokesman, adding that Russian aircraft has conducted more than 130 missions in the past three days, hitting some 450 targets in eight provinces.
Konashenkov also revealed that the S-400 missile defense system has been put on combat duty at the Hmeimim base of the Russian air force in Syria.
Turkey-Russia relations have worsened after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 warplane on the Syrian border on Tuesday for alleged violation of its air space.
Denying the allegations, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the incident a “stab in the back”, and warned of serious consequences for bilateral relations.
Investigative group Bellingcat and Russian website The Insider are suggesting that Russian intelligence has infiltrated the computer infrastructure of a company that processes British visa applications.
The investigation, published Friday, aims to show how two suspected Russian military intelligence agents, who have been charged with poisoning a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury, may have obtained British visas.
The Insider and Bellingcat said they interviewed the former chief technical officer of a company that processes visa applications for several consulates in Moscow, including that of Britain.
The man, who fled Russia last year and applied for asylum in the United States, said he had been coerced to work with agents of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, who revealed to him that they had access to the British visa center’s CCTV cameras and had a diagram of the center’s computer network. The two outlets say they have obtained the man’s deposition to the U.S. authorities but have decided against publishing the man’s name, for his own safety.
The Insider and Bellingcat, however, did not demonstrate a clear link between the alleged efforts of Russian intelligence to penetrate the visa processing system and Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, who have been charged with poisoning Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March this year.
The man also said that FSB officers told him in spring 2016 that they were going to send two people to Britain and asked for his assistance with the visa applications. The timing points to the first reported trip to Britain of the two men, who traveled under the names of Alexander Petrov and Anatoly Boshirov. The man, however, said he told the FSB that there was no way he could influence the decision-making on visa applications.
The man said he was coerced to sign an agreement to collaborate with the FSB after one of its officers threatened to jail his mother, and was asked to create a “backdoor” to the computer network. He said he sabotaged those efforts before he fled Russia in early 2017.
In September, British intelligence released surveillance images of the agents of Russian military intelligence GRU accused of the March nerve agent attack on double agent Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Bellingcat and The Insider quickly exposed the agents’ real names and the media, including The Associated Press, were able to corroborate their real identities.
The visa application processing company, TLSContact, and the British Home Office were not immediately available for comment. (VOA)