Downed Russian jet

Erdogan expresses 'sadness' over event

Turkish President takes conciliatory tone, renews call for meeting with Putin in Paris

MOSCOW • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed "sadness" over the downing of a Russian warplane, saying he wished the incident had never happened.

In his most conciliatory comments yet after last Tuesday's incident, Mr Erdogan said yesterday: "I'm really saddened by the incident. We wish it had never happened, but it happened. I hope something like this doesn't happen again.

"We hope that the issue between us and Russia does not escalate any further, become corrosive and have dire consequences in the future."

He was speaking to supporters in western Balikesir province.

Mr Erdogan also renewed a call to Russian President Vladimir Putin for a face-to-face meeting in Paris on the sidelines of the United Nations Global Climate Summit tomorrow, saying it would be an opportunity to restore relations.

"What we tell Russia is, 'Let's resolve this issue between ourselves and within its boundaries. Let's not make others happy by destroying our whole relationship,' " he said.

"Russia is important for Turkey as much as Turkey is important for Russia. Both countries cannot afford to give up on each other."

Mr Putin, who has branded the incident a "stab in the back", is yet to agree to talks.

The plane incident, one of the most serious clashes between a Nato member and Russia, has drawn a harsh response from Moscow.

Russia announced it was halting a visa-free regime for Turkish visitors, after threatening a raft of retaliatory economic measures to punish the Nato member state.

Earlier yesterday, the Turkish foreign ministry warned its citizens against non-urgent and unnecessary travel to Russia.

Turkey says the Su-24 warplane strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, but Russia has insisted it did not cross the border from Syria and demanded an apology.

Mr Erdogan's expression of "sadness" looks to be an olive branch.

But both strongmen leaders face a difficult balancing act in trying to defuse the crisis.

They cannot afford to alienate their nationalist supporters at home, but cannot afford either to destroy a vital bilateral relationship.

Both countries depend on each other economically, the BBC reported.

Russia is Turkey's second-largest trading partner - and they need to unite to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Erdogan has not done a complete about-face, however.

He had earlier warned Russia "not to play with fire" in reacting to the shooting-down.

Mr Erdogan has also insisted that Turkey deserves an apology because its air space was violated by the Russian aircraft.

Turkey's shooting down of the Russian airplane has raised the stakes in Syria's nearly five-year- old civil war.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'Erdogan expresses 'sadness' over event'. Print Edition | Subscribe