Turkey's President Erdogan apologises to Russia's President Putin over shooting down of military plane

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a press conference on June 3, 2016.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a press conference on June 3, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (Reuters/AFP) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has written to Russian leader Vladimir Putin to apologise over the shooting down of a Russian air force jet by Turkey's military, a Kremlin spokesman said on Monday (June 27).

After the Russian jet was shot down in November last year near the Syrian-Turkish border, Russia imposed trade restrictions on Ankara. Mr Putin had said they would not be lifted unless Mr Erdogan apologised over the incident.

"The head of the Turkish state in his message expressed his sympathy and deepest condolences to the family of the dead Russian pilot and said sorry," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. He added that Mr Erdogan said he wanted to do "everything possible for the restoration of the traditionally friendly relations between Turkey and Russia".

The Kremlin then released a statement citing Mr Erdogan as saying Ankara "never had the desire and the intention" to down the Russian jet.

"I want to once again express my sympathy and deep condolences to the family of the dead Russian pilot and I say sorry," the statement quoted Mr Erdogan as saying.

Mr Erdogan's spokesman said the President had written to Mr Putin to express regret about the downing, and asked the family of the pilot to "excuse us".

"The President also called on his Russian counterpart to restore the traditional friendly relations between Turkey and Russia, work together to address regional crises and jointly combat terrorism," Mr Ibrahim Kalin said in a statement.

"We are pleased to announce that Turkey and Russia have agreed to take necessary steps without delay to improve bilateral relations," the statement added.

Turkey's downing in November of the warplane on its border with Syria - where Moscow is flying a bombing campaign in support of long-standing ally President Bashar al-Assad - sparked an unprecedented crisis in the two nations' relations.

Ankara had argued that the Russian plane strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, but Russia insisted it did not cross the border and accused Ankara of a "planned provocation".

According to the Kremlin, Mr Erdogan also said that authorities were probing a Turkish national allegedly responsible for the downing of the jet.