Russia and Turkey – ‘Sorry’ or ‘apology?’

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has expressed his “regret and sorrow” to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a letter addressing the downing of a Russian jet and the killing of two Russian pilots in 2015, expressing his desire to restore bilateral ties, the Turkish and Russian presidencies have said.

The Kremlin said on June 27 that Putin received a letter from Erdoğan that was later confirmed by the Turkish presidency that said Ankara and Moscow had “agreed to take necessary steps to improve the relationship.”

“I want to once again express my sympathy and deep condolences to the family of the Russian pilot who died and I say: ‘I’m sorry,’” Erdoğan said in the letter, according to the Kremlin.

“The letter states, in particular, that Russia is a friend to Turkey and a strategic partner, with whom Turkish authorities would not wish to spoil relations,” it said, adding Erdoğan “expressed his desire to resolve the situation connected to the downing of a Russian military aircraft.” The Kremlin said Erdoğan also said Turkey was ready to react together with Russia against the crisis in the region and fight terrorism.

In related news, it was also announced that Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, will go to Sochi on July 1 to attend a regional summit where he could also meet with his Russian counterpart. 

The letter was confirmed by Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy adviser, İbrahim Kalın, later in the day through a statement. Kalın said Erdoğan expressed his deep sorrow over the downing of the Russian warplane and extended his condolences to the families of the pilots. Kalın said Erdoğan wrote “I am sorry” in the letter although the Kremlin version cited the Turkish president as saying “I apologize.”

The letter follows a series of goodwill gestures from Turkey to Russia in a bid to normalize the bilateral relationship that has been severely hit due to heavy trade and tourism sanctions imposed by Moscow.

Earlier in the day, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım heralded “good developments” with Russia as he said they would be announced in the near future. At a press conference he held to inform the public about the agreement reached with Israel, he also heralded “good developments” that will soon to be announced as part of efforts to reconcile with Russia.

“Both the Turkish and Russian people want an end to this crisis. They both believe [this crisis] is nonsense. What falls on us as governments is to meet this expectation of our peoples without delay. There are good developments in this direction and we’ll soon announce them to our people,” Yıldırım told reporters on June 27.

FM goes to Russia

Another positive sign in the prospective normalization of Ankara-Moscow ties is the confirmation of Çavuşoğlu’s attendance in a regional summit in Sochi upon the invitation of the Russian government.

Turkish diplomatic sources confirmed Çavuşoğlu’s participation in a ministerial summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) that will take place in Sochi between June 29 and July 1, during which he could conduct a separate meeting with his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Ministers from 11 member countries will attend a session on July 1.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry, however, has not yet officially announced Çavuşoğlu’s participation to the BSEC.

Çavuşoğlu and Lavrov held their last face-to-face meeting in Belgrade on Dec. 4, 2015, immediately after the incident but could not succeed in mending ties. Neither Turkish nor Russian diplomatic sources were in a position to confirm another Çavuşoğlu-Lavrov meeting on the sidelines of the BSEC meeting in Sochi.

Russia imposed heavy sanctions Turkey after its jet was shot down and two pilots were killed. Turkey, on the other hand, sought to reduce the tension with Russia and offered an olive tree after the change of government under Yıldırım.

Russia to issue work permits for Turks

Earlier in the day Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş touched on prospected normalization with Russia as well, saying, “There are increasing signs that bilateral tension between Turkey and Russia is softening.”

“We are observing some signs of a softening of the relationship following letters sent to the Russian authorities from our president and prime minister,” Kurtulmuş told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting on June 27.

Erdoğan and Yıldırm sent congratulatory letters to their counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, to mark the occasion of Russia’s national holiday on June 12.

Kurtulmuş said one positive signal was given after this by the Russian government, which re-installed working permits for Turkish nationals to be recruited by Turkish companies operating in Russia.

Moscow had previously announced that it would no longer issue working permits for Turkish nationals to be employed by Turkish companies in Russia as part of a comprehensive package of sanctions in reaction to the jet crisis. Russia has repeatedly said Turkey must officially apologize and pay compensation over the downing of the jet and the killing two of its pilots in order to restore ties.

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