Erdogan takes step to improve ties with Russia

By bne IntelliNews June 14, 2016

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sent a letter to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, in what may be an attempt to start rebuilding bridges between Ankara and Moscow.  

The letter – on the occasion of Russia's national holiday, celebrated on June 12 – marks the first contact the two leaders have had after relations between Ankara and Moscow hit a low following the downing of a Russian bomber by a Turkish jet near the Syrian border last year. 

Following the incident, Russia has imposed a raft of economic sanctions against Ankara. Moscow demands a formal apology and a compensation. But Ankara still refuses to apologise for shooting down the plane.

However, in his letter Erdogan said: “I hope that the relations between Russia and Turkey reach the level they deserve,” the Hurriyet Daily News reported on June 14. This could be a sign that Ankara is willing to mend ties with Russia as the crisis in relations is badly hurting the Turkish economy, especially the vital tourism industry.

On June 14, Turkey’s EU Minister Omer Celik reiterated Turkey’s position during a visit to the Slovakian capital Bratislava. Celik said that Turkish air forces was not aware that the jet was Russian before downing it, and this was done in line with international engagement rules. The minister also called for the repair of relations with Russia and said that there exist close ties between Turkey and Russia, Bloomberg reported. 

Turkey's exports to Russia plunged by 63.4% y/y and 27.4% m/m to stand at just $116mn in May, data from the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TIM) showed on June 1. Only 31,000 Russian tourists visited Turkey in April, a significant 79% decline from a year ago. Turkey needs more exports and tourism revenues to plug its wide current account deficit.

“In the end the key is what does Putin want? Is he willing to accept some kind of normalisation in the relationship which stops short of a formal apology, and perhaps compensation paid by Turkey?” asks Tim Ash at Nomura. “I think the latter is just possible, although the former is still difficult to imagine. In the end, I don't think Putin is going to make it easy for Turkey at this stage, given he views his intervention in Syria, and the pain imparted by Russian sanctions on Turkey as giving him leverage over the West in the bigger geopolitical battle being played out,” Ash said in an emailed comment.

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