Relations between Ankara and Moscow must not be affected by a “mistake of a pilot” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, in another bid to smooth tensions following the Nov. 24 downing of a Russian warplane by Turkish jets.
“We wouldn't have wanted to come across such a [situation], but looking from another perspective a mistake has been made in our sovereign area. Who made this mistake? Not the manager, of course. It is the pilots who were negligent and did not hear the warnings” Erdoğan told reporters aboard the presidential plane returning to Turkey from the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat.
He was referring to the two pilots inside a Russian Su-24 warplane that was shot down by Turkish F-16 fighter jets after violating Turkish airspace along the border with Syria.
Turkey claims that it warned the warplane five times in 10 minutes and the identity of the aircraft was not visible, but Moscow denies such allegations and says its aircraft remained inside Syrian airspace. Russia has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since Sept. 30 in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A U.S.-led coalition made up of more than 60 states to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), another party in the already mixed geography, says Russia has been targeting anti-Assad opposition groups.
Effect on bilateral relations ‘saddening'
Stating that Turkish pilots are obliged to take action within the rules of engagement in such situations, Erdoğan said a “mistake” on the Russian side such not lead to such negative consequences on bilateral relations.
“An incident that occurred due to the mistake of a pilot, who did not listen to the warnings, should not affect the relations of two nations, particularly not strategic relations. The effect of the incident on bilateral relations really saddens us” he added.
Since the downing of the jet, Russia has imposed a raft of economic sanctions on Turkey, particularly on agricultural products imported from Turkey.