Turkey not regretful about downing Russian jet, but ‘sad’: Economy minister

Turkey not regretful about downing Russian jet, but ‘sad’: Economy minister

Turkey not regretful about downing Russian jet, but ‘sad’: Economy minister

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Turkey has no regrets over the downing of a Russian jet last year but is “sad about the result,” according to Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci.

“The killing of the Russian pilot with the downing of the jet is an extremely sad issue. It’s an issue that we are sad about,” Zeybekci told Turkish broadcaster TGRT, while adding that the Russian side should also be sad.

“Apologizing is something very different in diplomatic terms. We don’t feel regret, but we’re sad. They should also be sad. We are guessing that they are also sad for the intentional violation of Turkish airspace,” he added. 

Zeybekci’s statements came amid President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s congratulatory letters to their counterparts for Russia Day on June 12, despite the ongoing tension between the two countries.

Yıldırım and Erdoğan sent letters to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin, respectively, that expressed hope the relations between the countries would be normalized. 

“I hope that relations between Russia and Turkey reach the level they deserve in the near future,” Erdoğan wrote in his letter to the Russian president. 

“I hope that the cooperation and relations between our countries reach the level necessary for the common goals of our people soon. I wish health and prosperity to all Russians on behalf of you,” Yıldırım said.  

Speaking about the letters, Zeybekci said the letters did not have any special characteristics and were “routine.”

“The congratulatory letters were sent because of a national holiday. However, it becomes attention-grabbing at a time where relations aren’t normal. A message of ‘we want to enhance and mend our relations with Turkey’ came from Russia after the letters,” he said, adding that this was not a “sustainable” environment for both countries. 

Kremlin commented on the letters on June 15, saying Russia wanted to mend ties but that Turkey needed to take some steps first.

“President [Vladimir] Putin has made it crystal-clear that after what happened, any normalization of ties does not look possible before Ankara has taken the necessary steps,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, referring to Russia’s insistence that Turkey apologize and pay compensation for downing the Russian jet.

Noting that both sides had been affected by the ongoing tension, Zeybekci said Turkey had been negatively affected in terms of tourism and exports. 

“It is clear that we have been negatively affected in tourism and exports. But Russia was affected and continues to be. The reasonable thing is to fix [ties] as soon as possible,” he added.

Zeybekci acknowledged that they do not expect everything to return to the status quo ante even if relations are normalized.

“The ceasing of negative course of events and starting of positive changes means a lot to us,” he said. 

During his interview, Zeybekci said Russia and Turkey “completed” each other and that they could not reject one another. 

“What Russia has Turkey doesn’t, and Russia doesn’t have what Turkey has. We are talking about two countries that incredibly fulfill one another and would come up with gains from a relationship,” he said, while stressing Turkey was right in the jet incident.

“We are talking about border violations that lasted for days and months. The jet was warned countless times for minutes. We are talking about a violation that lasted for 13 or 14 minutes,” he added. 

Turkey downed the Russian jet along its border on Nov. 24, 2015, over alleged airspace violations, prompting a series of sanctions from the Russian side, as well as a war of words.

Putin accused Ankara of a “stab in the back” and imposed sanctions on Turkey, as the trade between the two countries – which back opposing sides in the five-year Syrian conflict – plummeted.

Erdoğan recently said both sides should work together to better their relations, adding that he was concerned at how relations had been sacrificed over what he described as a “pilot error.”