Russian President Vladimir Putin called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the restoration of diplomatic ties and an in-person meeting, the closest to cordial relations the two countries have experienced since the November 2015 downing of a Russian jet that had violated Turkish airspace.
The call arrived hours after suspected Islamic State terrorists killed 31 and injured more than 200 in an attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. Putin, both Kremlin and Ankara sources reported, extended his sympathies to the Turkish head of state.
According to Russian state-controlled outlet Russia Today (RT), the two leaders “discussed the possibility of meeting in person during a phone conversation.” RT suggests the meeting could take place during or around the time of the G20 summit, scheduled to take place in the Turkish capital in September. According to an official Kremlin press release, “The Russian and Turkish presidents agreed to explore the possibility of having [a] personal meeting,” and that Erdogan had made it possible “to turn the crisis page in bilateral relations” by sending a letter of condolences to Russia for the Russian jet incident last year.
Anadolu Agency, a Turkish state-run news outlet, confirmed the phone conversation. Anadolu cites a Turkish “presidential source” as describing the conversation as “very positive.” The official statement from the Turkish government cited by Anadolu did not discuss a personal meeting: “Mr. President and Mr. Putin pointed to the importance of holding cooperation in the face of political, economic and humanitarian crises in the region as well as taking necessary steps to revive the bilateral relations.” However, BBC reports that Erdogan’s office confirmed plans to meet in person.
Discussion of restoring Russian-Turkish ties began earlier this week, when Erdogan sent Putin a letter urging him to consider reconstructing their diplomatic relationship. The two sides disagree on the content of the letter. According to Erdogan’s office, “Our president and Putin, president of the Russian Federation, have emphasized the importance of normalizing bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia.” Hurriyet reports the letter included a message of “deep sorrow” for the Russian jet incident.
The letter reportedly contained an “apology.” According to RT, “Russian President Vladimir Putin has received a letter in which his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip 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.”
Anadolu Agency disagreed. “Erdogan’s recent letter … did not include any words of ‘apology’ over the downing of a Russian warplane in November 2015, according to a presidential source on Tuesday.” Erdogan had stated in the days following the jet incident that Turkey would never apologize for protecting its borders from intruders.
Following the incident, Russian jets continued to cross into Turkish airspace, triggering more threats from Ankara. Meanwhile, Russia began an information offensive against Turkey, accusing Erdogan of purchasing oil from the Islamic State. Erdogan responded by accusing Putin of buying oil from ISIS, while the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq issued a statement that the trucks the Russian government claimed were carrying ISIS oil were actually carrying Kurdish oil.
The KRG maintains friendly relations with Turkey despite Turkey’s ongoing campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist group.