Turkey to Restore Diplomatic Relations with Russia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan apologized on Monday for the downing of a Russian military jet last year, saying he is “sorry” for the incident. Erdoğan contacted Russian President Vladimir Putin to express his “sympathy and deep condolences” for the family of the dead Sukhoi SU-24 pilot, Captain Konstantin Murahtin, and “asked to be forgiven,” a Kremlin spokesman said.

“I want to express once again that I share the grief of the Russian pilot’s family and send my condolences. Sorry about this,” Erdoğan stated in a letter to the Kremlin.

Turkey shot down the jet after it crossed the Turkey-Syria border in November 2015, violating Turkish airspace for approximately 17 seconds. Turkish officials ostensibly warned the pilot of the airspace violation 10 times during a five minute span through an “emergency channel” before the jet was shot down, a claim that Moscow denies. The plane crashed in northern Syria near Latakia.

Erdoğan’s long-awaited apology symbolizes Turkey’s interest in restoring diplomatic relations with Russia. Erdoğan had not previously apologized for the 2015 incident, triggering the deterioration of relations between the two regional powerhouses that support opposing actors in the Syrian civil war. Russia immediately responded to the incident by banning most agricultural imports from Turkey, halting Russia package holiday tourism to Turkey, suspending construction projects involving Turkish firms in Russia, restricting Turkish citizens from working for companies registered in Russia, and suspending the new Black Sea pipeline for gas exports to Turkey.

Erdoğan’s apology for downing the Russian jet also timely coincides with Turkey’s renewed efforts to bolster its diplomatic ties with regional powers such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Israel and Turkey agreed to restore full diplomatic ties after more than six years of animosity last week, one of many moves by Erdoğan to symbolize a dramatic shift in foreign policy since former Prime Minster and Foreign Minster Ahmet Davutoğlu resigned in early May.

Turkey’s effort to restore diplomatic ties with Russia and states in the Middle East illustrates the country’s desire to revert to its long withstanding “zero problems with neighbors” stance. As Turkey continues to struggle with Kurdish unrest in its southern and eastern provinces, the Islamic State group in neighboring Iraq and Syria, unravelling domestic politics in Ankara, a waning economy, and a ceaseless migrant crisis, Erdoğan has decided to make peace with his neighbors to manage one less obstacle for Turkey.

Adam Gold