Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is “sorry” for the downing of a Russian military jet near the country’s border with Syria last year, and that there was no deliberate intention in carrying out the attack, a Kremlin spokesman said.
Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin received a message from Erdogan expressing his “sympathy and deep condolences” to the family of the killed pilot, and “asked to be forgiven”.
Erdogan also reportedly promised that he would do “everything possible” to restore relations with Russia.
The Kremlin then released a statement citing Erdogan as saying Ankara “never had the desire and the intention” to down the Russian jet.
Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesperson, confirmed that the Turkish leader sent the letter saying he was “sorry” for the incident and offering condolences to the family of the pilot.
“I want to express once again that I share the grief of the Russian pilot’s family and send my condolences. Sorry about this,” Erdogan stated in the letter, according to Kalin.
Turkey had not previously apologised for the November 2015 incident, which killed one Russian pilot and triggered a diplomatic row between Ankara and Moscow.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said it was clear that there were “geopolitical calculations” involved in Erdogan’s decision.
Challands said it was likely that Erdogan thought “that the benefits of normalising relations with Russia, outweighs the humiliation of saying sorry”.
Russia has been carrying out operations against rebels in Syria in support of its ally President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey had insisted that the Sukhoi SU-24 jet was shot down for alleged airspace violation. Reports said that the plane then crashed in Syrian territory near Latakia.
The Russians responded to the incident by halting package tours to Turkey and banning most agricultural imports from Turkey.
On Monday, the Russian television RT reported that Turkey has also reopened a probe into the suspected “killer” of the Russian pilot.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on national television on Monday that the government will soon announce that progress has been achieved in its rapprochement with Russia.
“There are excellent results, we will share information about them in the near future,” Yildirim said.