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Putin: "There is a problem with the Turkish leadership"

Russian president pledges to work with whoever is elected as U.S. president

CNN  — 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called the Turkish downing of a Russian war plane “an enemy act” and rejected international efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish F-16s shot down the Russian Su-24 on November 24. Turkey said the Russian plane was over Turkish airspace and ignored warnings to change course. One of the two Russian pilots was killed.

Putin said Turkey had other options.

“Would it not just have been easier just to pick up the phone?” Putin asked at his annual yearend press conference in Moscow.

‘This was a stab in the back’

Putin also appeared to take aim at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey's Erdogan, left, and Russia's Putin attend a press conference in 2012.

“There is a problem with the Turkish leadership,” Putin said.

He criticized Turkish officials for getting in touch with NATO rather than choosing first to talk with Russia.

“Did they think we’d run away?” Putin asked. “No, we’re not that kind of country.”

On the contrary, Putin said, Russia has increased its aviation presence in Syria. The shootdown was close to the Turkish-Syrian border.

“This was a stab in the back,” Putin said. “On interstate level, I do not see the prospect for improving relations.”

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Security in Egypt

On another matter, Putin said the decision to block Russian tourists from traveling to Egypt was not taken as a punitive measure.

“The decision to cut Russian tourism to Egypt is not a political one; it is connected with security reasons,” Putin said. “When we are sure of the security, we will lift all the restrictions.”

A Russian passenger plane crashed over Egypt’s Sinai region on October 31, killing all 224 people aboard.

Egyptian authorities say the plane was not brought down by terrorism. But many foreign governments – Russia’s included – believe a bomb was smuggled aboard the plane at its point of departure, the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Putin said at his press conference that Egypt was currently unable to cope with the threat of terrorism.

“As soon as all mechanisms are in place to protect our citizens then we can continue tourism,” Putin said. “Our representatives should be on the ground to oversee the landing, taking off, etc.”

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Putin: Only the Syrian people can decide

He also rejected international efforts to bring an end to the Assad regime in Syria.

Many Western leaders have said that Assad, who is blamed for the deaths of tens of thousands of his citizens, cannot be part of Syria’s future.

The Syrian people should decide the future of Bashar al-Assad, Putin says.

But Putin said he would never agree to outsiders determining Syria’s political future.

“Only the Syrian people can determine who should govern them and under what standards, what rules,” Putin said.

Putin declined to comment on the U.S. presidential campaign.

“Whoever it is, we are ready and we want to develop our relations with the United States,” he said. “We are going to work with any president the American people vote for.”

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