Turkey’s president has apologized to Moscow for shooting down a Russian military jet near the Syrian border last year, officials from both countries said Monday.
The November incident inflamed relations between the two countries and threatened to involve the United States, a NATO ally of Turkey’s. Monday’s apology could pave the way for improving relations between Moscow and Ankara.
After the incident, Moscow placed sanctions on Turkey and demanded an apology, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initially rebuffed.
On Monday, Erdoğan, faced with an economy crippled by sanctions, sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he “expressed his deep regret for what happened and said that he is ready to do all possible to restore the traditionally friendly ties between Turkey and Russia,” according to a Kremlin statement.
“We never had the desire or deliberate intention of shooting down the Russian Federation’s plane,” Erdoğan wrote, according to excerpts of the letter released by the Kremlin.
A spokesman for Erdoğan, Ibrahim Kalin, confirmed that he sent the letter to convey “deep sadness” over the downing of the warplane, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.
The two countries have also agreed to take necessary steps to improve relations, Kalin said.
Turkish forces in late November shot down the warplane, which Ankara said had violated its airspace. Turkey had previously warned Russia against violating its airspace during airstrikes in support of the Syrian regime. Russia has maintained the plane did not violate Turkish airspace.
One of the Russian pilots was also shot at and killed as he parachuted to the ground.
In his letter, Erdoğan expressed condolences to the pilot’s family.
“I would like to send my condolences to the family of the pilot who lost his life and express one more time that I share their pain. I am saying to his family: ‘Excuse us,’ ” Erdoğan wrote, according to Kalin.
Ankara is also investigating the alleged involvement of a Turkish citizen in the pilot’s death, according to the Kremlin statement.
In the excerpts released by the Kremlin, Erdoğan also indicated he’s open to compensation for the incident, another demand of Moscow’s along with the apology.
“We look on this Russian pilot’s family as we would a Turkish family and we are ready to undertake any initiative that could lessen the pain and severity of the damage caused,” Erdoğan wrote, according to the excerpts.