In a diplomatic flurry of activity, on the same day that Turkey announced it had reached a deal with Israel to normalise relations, the Kremlin said in a statement that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he expressed an interest in resolving the situation connected with the downing of a Russian military aircraft last year.
Relations between Ankara and Moscow deteriorated rapidly after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian bomber near the Syrian border in November. Both Russian pilots ejected, and one was killed by machine gun fire from the ground by Turkmen rebels, while the other survived and was turned over to Russia. Following the incident, Russia imposed a raft of economic sanctions that are badly hurting the Turkish economy. Moscow also demanded a formal apology and compensation, but Ankara has repeatedly said it would not apologise.
Erdogan said in his message to Putin that Turkey never had a desire nor intention to shoot down any aircraft belonging to Russia's military, according to a statement from Kremlin.
Erdogan said he wanted again to express his sympathy and deepest condolences to the family of the deceased Russian pilot and said “sorry”. “In the name of the relief of pain and the severity of the damage inflicted, we are ready for any initiative," said Erdogan in his message to the Putin.
Erdogan expressed his deep regret over the incident and underlined his willingness to do everything possible to restore the traditionally friendly relations between Turkey and Russia, as well as jointly respond to crisis events in the region to fight terrorism, according to the statement from Kremlin.
Erdogan also noted that Turkey initiated and conducted an investigation into a Turkish citizen who is associated with the death of the Russian pilot, the Kremlin said. On June 27, Bora Erguden, a lawyer for Alpaslan Celik who allegedly led the rebels that killed the Russian Su-24 bomber pilot in Syria last November, told TASS that a Turkish court has released Celik after charging him illegal weapons possession, as well as other defendants, but the decision does not mean that the charges have been dropped.
Later on June 27, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin confirmed the message from Erdogan and said that Russia and Turkey had agreed to take steps to develop ties, Bloomberg reported. Erdogan offered his condolences for the killed Russian pilot, according to Kalin.
Tim Ash from Nomura International said on June 27 in an e-mailed comment that if Russia responds by lifting the ban on Russian tourists visiting Turkey, this would be positive for Turkey.
The move follows the news earlier in the day that Turkey and Israel had reached a deal to normalise relations that went sour six years ago, when Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, killing 10 Turkish citizens.
“This might be a Turkish reaction to Brexit, and the assumption that the EU, and the EU accession anchor will now weaken, and that Turkey needs to make up with its neighbours. This might also have been reflected in the deal with Israel, to normalise relations, so we are seeing a generalised move by Turkey to try and solve outstanding issues, which is positive,” Ash said.