Putin: Turkey may have 'licked US in certain area'

President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow. (AP)
President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow. (AP)

Moscow - Russian President Vladimir Putin implied on Thursday that Turkey might have shot down a Russian warplane recently in an effort to please the United States.

"If someone in Turkey's leadership decided to lick the Americans in a certain area, I don't know whether they did it in the right way," Putin said at his annual press conference, replying to a question about the Turkish military shooting down a Russian jet near the Syrian border last month.

Putin said his country will try to maintain friendly relations with the Turkish people, but dealing with the country's leadership has been "practically impossible".

"Even when we say, 'yes, we agree', they strike us in the side or in the back for absolutely incomprehensible reasons," Putin told the press conference, attended by about 1 400 journalists and televised nationwide.

Turkey and Russia's once-friendly relations have been devastated by the Syrian civil war, in which they back opposing sides.

Putin said that Russia will continue its airstrikes in Syria and "support the Syrian Army's offensive for as long as the Syrian Army conducts its operation".

Turkey, a Nato member state, supports some rebel groups fighting the Syrian government, as does the US.

The president reiterated Russia's position that the Syrian people - and not any outside government - should decide who Syria's future leadership will be.

However, he also said he supported a US initiative for a United Nations resolution seeking peace in Syria.

He said that Russia's view of a solution for the Syrian conflict is now very similar to that of the United States, which had earlier sought to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad on allegations of using deadly force against civilians.

He said the Syrian conflict can be solved only through political means, and the key aspects of Russia's plan in Syria coincide with that of the US.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry said after a meeting with Putin in Moscow that the US is no longer seeking regime change in Syria as a priority and instead would focus on stabilising the region.

Money

On Thursday, Putin also said Russia's intervention in Syria is "not weighing heavily" on the country's federal budget. He said that funds allocated for military exercises were diverted to the Syrian campaign.

However, Russia's federal budget for 2016 is based on a "very optimistic" estimate of $50 per barrel of oil and will most likely need to be adjusted, Putin said.

He said the peak of the economic crisis had passed, but the budget would probably need to be adjusted considering that oil's current per-barrel price is hovering at a low of around $40.

Last year, the country experienced a devastating economic shock as oil prices plummeted from more than $100 per barrel to about $50.

Putin's annual, end-of-year press conference lasted about three hours, similar to the one the previous year.

He answered questions on domestic and international issues, especially Russia's involvement in Syria and Ukraine, and its fight against international terrorism.

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