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Erdogan Expresses Regret Over Russian Pilot's Death

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Turkish President Recep Teyyip Erdogan has written to Russian President Vladimir Putin to express "condolences" to the family of a pilot who died after Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane and to appeal for a return to "friendly ties."

But the statement appeared to stop short of apologizing for the downing of the Russian Su-24 attack aircraft on November 24, after Ankara said the plane entered Turkish airspace near the border with Syria.

The Kremlin and Russian media have suggested Erdogan's message included an apology for the downing, which came nearly two months after Russia launched air attacks in Syria against armed enemies of Moscow ally President Bashar al-Assad.

The downing, and the deaths of a Russian pilot after he parachuted out of his aircraft and a Russian soldier during the would-be rescue, have deeply strained relations between Ankara and Russia.

Turkey's Anadolu news agency quoted Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin as saying on June 27 in the letter, “I would like to send my condolences to the family of the pilot who lost his life and express one more time that I share their pain. I am saying to his family: 'Excuse us.'"

He also called for a restoration of "traditional friendly ties."

Other sources quoted Kalin as saying that "Turkey and Russia have agreed to take necessary steps without delay to improve bilateral relations."

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted earlier in the day as saying that Erdogan had "asked to be forgiven," leading to reports suggesting Ankara was apologizing for downing the aircraft.

According to the Kremlin, Erdogan's letter added that Turkey was conducting a probe against a Turkish citizen who allegedly shot and killed the Russian pilot as he was descending by parachute.

Russia imposed trade restrictions on Ankara and halted package holiday tours to Turkey after the downing.

Putin had said the restrictions would not be lifted unless Erdogan apologized over the incident.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and TASS