Russia accused of 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused Russia on Wednesday of carrying out a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against Turkmens in Syria's Latakia.
"They want to expel them, they want to ethnically cleanse this area so that the regime and Russian bases in Latakia and Tartus are protected," Davutoglu told a group of international reporters gathered in his office.
The Turkish PM said that Russian airstrikes against Syrian rebels in areas not controlled by the Islamic State group (IS) only serves IS, as the Russians do not intend to fight the militant group.
Davutoglu's remarks are the latest in the escalating war of words between Russian and Turkish officials on the back of Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane on the Turkish-Syrian border last months.
The PM's remarks seem to indicate that his country is not willing to back down in its current fight with Russia.
The Syrian Turkmen are Syrian citizens of Turkish ethnicity who have lived in Syria since Ottoman times and have coexisted with Syrian Arabs for hundreds of years.
There are no official statistics on the size of the Turkmen minority in Syria, but most estimates say Turkmens number around 100,000.
The largest Turkmen community surrounds the Turkmen Mountain in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, near the border with Turkey.
They also have a smaller presence in villages in the province of Aleppo in the north, Homs in central Syria and the Quneitra region in the country's south.
The Turkmen Mountain region has been subjected to a government offensive under the cover of Russian airstrikes.
The downing of the Russian jet has significantly strained relations between Turkey and Russia with both side hurling accusations at one another.
Russia has introduced a number of economic sanctions against Turkish imports and accused Turkey of shooting down their jet to protect the Islamic State group's oil smuggling routes, which is denied by Turkey.
On Monday, Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador in Ankara on Monday to voice Ankara's unease after reporters captured images of a crewmember brandishing a missile launcher as his vessel crossed the Bosphorus towards the Mediterranean.