Beirut-Turkey took on Monday a step forward in improving its tense relations with Russia. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a letter to Moscow carrying two messages: Ankara said that Erdogan was deeply sad when Turkey hit a Russian jet that violated its airspace last autumn, while the Kremlin said that Erdogan apologized about the accident, which had pushed Turkish-Russian relations to their worst since the end of the Cold War.
The initiative came following a Turkish good-intended step to refile charges against the Turkish suspect in the killing of the Russian pilot, shot down by Turkey last November.
Meanwhile, Turkish diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu would discuss with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the first of July the means to improve and normalize Turkish-Russian relations.
However, the sources asserted that Turkey did not present any “concessions” in the Russian file, adding that Turkey’s position was clear since the first day Ankara said it was sorry for what happened, and that Turkish combat aircrafts had not known the identity of the plane, which violated its airspace before being hit.
Turkish President’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said that Turkish President Rageb Tayeb Erdogan had sent a letter to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin expressing his “deep sadness” about the accident that brought down the Russian jet last year. He said: “I share the suffering of the family of the Russian pilot who lost his life, and would like to offer my condolences. I want to tell them we are sorry.”
Kalin added in a press conference held in Ankara on Monday that Erdogan also called on his Russian counterpart to restore traditional friendly relations, find solutions to the region’s problems and fight terrorism.
He said: “Turkey and Russia have agreed to take necessary steps without delay to improve bilateral relations.”
In parallel, the Kremlin confirmed that Putin had received a letter from his Turkish counterpart apologizing for the killing of the Russian pilot of the SU-24 bomber that was downed by Turkey’s aircraft in Syrian airspaces last year.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Erdogan expressed readiness to restore relations with Russia. He added that Erdogan expressed in the letter his deep sympathy and condolences to the relatives of the deceased Russian pilot and said “sorry.”
In his letter, Erdogan also said Russia was “a friend and a strategic partner” of Ankara, according to Peskov.
Turkish government spokesperson Numan Kurtulmus said Russian-Turkish relations were improving.
“We are observing some signs of improvement in relationship following the steps taken by both parties. A Russian company began to allow the employment of Turkish nationals,” Kurtulmus said.
The Kremlin website published the content of the letter sent by Turkey on Monday. Erdogan had written in the letter: “We never had a desire or a deliberate intention to down an aircraft belonging to Russia.”
The Turkish President also said the Turkish side undertook all the risks and made a great effort to recover the body of the Russian pilot from the Syrian opposition, bringing it to Turkey.
Also, Erdogan said in his letter that the Turkish authorities had launched a criminal investigation against the person linked to the killing of the Russian pilot.
A lawyer from the defense team of Alparslan Celik, chief of the team that killed Russian pilot Oleg Peshkov, said that Celik is still under arrest and that concerned authorities resumed their investigations.