Turkish President Apologizes to Russia, Why Sudden Turnaround?

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In sudden turnaround, Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has apologized over the downing of a Russian jet last year that ruined the countries’ relations.

Erdogan expressed readiness to restore relations with Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has received a letter in which his Turkish counterpart Erdogan apologized for the death of the pilot who was killed when a Russian jet was downed over the Syrian-Turkish border last November, the Kremlin said.

The incident involving the downing of the Russian Su-24 bomber led to the worst deterioration of Turkish-Russian relations in recent history, with Russia describing it as a “stab in the back.”

“The head of the Turkish state expressed his deep sympathy and condolences to the relatives of the deceased Russian pilot and said ‘sorry,’” Peskov said.

In his letter, Erdogan called Russia “a friend and a strategic partner” of Ankara, with whom the Turkish authorities would not want to spoil relations.

“We never had a desire or a deliberate intention to down an aircraft belonging to Russia,” the letter read, according to a statement published on the Kremlin website.

According to the statement, Erdogan’s letter stressed that “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. The organization of the pre-burial procedures was conducted in accordance with all religious and military procedures.”

Ankara has treated the family of the dead Russian pilot as if it were a Turkish family and is “ready for any initiatives to relieve the pain and severity of the damage done,” the letter said.

The address by the Turkish leader also informed that a criminal investigation has been launched against the person suspected of killing the Russian pilot, the Kremlin said.

In addition, Erdogan expressed readiness to tackle security challenges in the region and fight terrorism together with Moscow.

Turkish Hurriyet newspaper reported that sources close to Erdogan have confirmed that the letter with the apology was sent to Moscow.

Immediately after downing the Russian jet, Erdogan had vowed that his country would offer no apology for the incident.

“I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us,” Erdogan said in an exclusive interview with CNN International on Nov. 26. “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to … violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence.”

Also speaking to reporters during a visit to the Turkish Cypriot capital of Nicosia on Nov. 26, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said Ankara would not apologize to Moscow.

“We don’t need to apologize on an occasion in which we are right,” Cavusoglu said.

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 Turkey of a “planned provocation”.

The countries are on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Ankara backing terrorists fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, while Moscow is assisting Damascus in its war on terrorist groups especially ISIS.

On November 24, 2015, a Russian Su-24 bomber, taking part in an anti-terrorist mission in Syria, was brought down by the Turkish Air Force.

Analysts say Erdogan had decided to mend relations with Russia after pressure from Washington. There was concern within NATO that Moscow-Ankara conflict would result in a military confrontation between the two states.

Meanwhile, a senior Russian official says Erdogan’s apology is too late and too little, and is the result of his failed foreign policies.

“If you follow normal sensible logic, all this should have happened immediately after the incident and even better if that incident had never have happened,” said Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev

He noted that there was no logic in Turkey’s actions at the time, and under Turkey’s current leadership normalization of ties seems impossible. 

“Obviously, Turkish foreign policy has failed on almost all fronts and Erdogan, who is responsible for that, now needs a small diplomatic victory…one such victory, perhaps, could be the normalization of relations with Russia,” Kosachev said.

“However, in my opinion, to normalize these relations, a lot more should be done than just a letter of apology,” he stressed. 

President Erdogan seems to have realized that he is making costly mistakes in Syria by using terrorism for political objectives. The Turkish president is becoming increasingly isolated is now trying to mend ties with Russia to boost his country diplomatically and economically.

Certainly there were geopolitical calculations involved in Erdogan’s sudden turnaround and it appears the benefits of mending ties with Russia, outweighs the humiliation of saying sorry after initially demanding an apology.  

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