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Turkey did apologize for shooting down Russian plane, Putin says

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting of Russian ambassadors and permanent representatives in foreign countries held at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow on June 30, 2016. ©AFP

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says Turkey did apologize to Moscow for shooting down a Russian jet fighter last year, although Ankara insists it has only expressed regret over the incident.

Putin made the remark during a meeting with Russian diplomats in Moscow on Thursday.

The remarks come as officials in Ankara say they had expressed regret only not an apology over the incident. 

Moscow-Ankara relations became strained last November after Turkey shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 aircraft with two pilots aboard, claiming the fighter jet had repeatedly violated Turkish airspace.

Ankara argued that the Russian plane strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings. Russia, however, insisted the aircraft did not cross the border and accused Ankara of "planned provocation."

Moscow said the plane was brought down in Syrian airspace, where Russia has been conducting combat sorties against Takfiri terrorists since late September 2015 upon a request from the Damascus government.

Of the two pilots aboard the warplane, one was rescued with the help of the Syrian army, but the other was killed by militants fighting the Syrian government.

On Monday, the Kremlin said Putin had received a letter from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he had apologized to his Russian counterpart over Ankara’s shooting down of the Russian jet.

Turkey, however, said later it had only expressed regret to Russia, denying reports of an apology, and retracting a compensation pledge.

A combo taken from video shows a Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet crashing in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Syrian border on November 24, 2015. ©Reuters

Two days later, Putin ordered his government to start the process of normalizing trade ties with Turkey, following a telephone conversation between the Russian and Turkish leaders, during which Putin expressed sympathy for the victims of the Tuesday night gun and bomb attacks at Istanbul's Ataturk international airport, which claimed the lives of 42 people and injured more than 230 others.  

"I ask that the Russian government begins the process of normalizing general trade and economic ties with Turkey," Putin said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, following the telephone conversation.

Following the November 2015 incident, Russia imposed a raft of sanctions against Ankara, including economic bans, and suspended all military deals with Ankara.

Russia will not enter arms race with NATO

Elsewhere in his remarks, Putin reacted to NATO’s military buildup near Russia’s borders, saying Russia will respond to the move by the Western military alliance.

He, however, said Moscow will defend itself without being drawn into an arms race with NATO.

Putin said NATO underlined its anti-Russian intentions by deploying forces in Poland and the Baltics and building missile defense sites.

Polish troops land with parachutes at the military compound near Torun, central Poland, on June 7, 2016, as part of the NATO Anaconda-16 military exercise. ©AFP

NATO recently launched its biggest-ever joint maneuvers in Poland — to the west of Russia, a move immediately condemned by Russian authorities. NATO also recently launched a missile system installed in European countries, further enraging Russia.

The alliance has also stepped up its military buildup near Russia’s borders.

Senior officials in Moscow have repeatedly accused NATO of seeking confrontation, describing its military buildup as a security threat to Europe. Russia has also criticized NATO’s expansionist policy to include countries in the Western Balkan region, saying the move directly harms Russia’s strategic interests in the area.

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