Normalization of relations underway
President Vladimir Putin said Russia is lifting a ban on tourism to Turkey after his first talks with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan since the downing of a Russian warplane plunged relations into crisis.
It’s time “to begin the process of normalizing trade relations” with Turkey by lifting sanctions, starting with tourism despite the threat of terrorism shown by the attack on Istanbul airport, Putin told a government meeting on Wednesday. Erdogan “assured me that the Turkish government will do all they can to ensure the safety of our citizens” in Turkey, he said.
Putin and Erdogan held “constructive” phone talks earlier Wednesday that focused “on restoration of the traditionally friendly” ties between Russia and Turkey, the Kremlin said in a statement. They agreed to meet at the earliest opportunity, it said. Putin also offered “deep condolences” for the victims of the Istanbul attack in which suspected Islamic State suicide bombers killed 41 people and wounded more than 200 on Tuesday, it said.
The rapid warming of relations came after Erdogan sent Putin a letter Tuesday offering “sympathy and profound condolences to the family of the Russian pilot who was killed” when Turkish fighter jets shot down his warplane near the Syrian border in November. The Kremlin initially said Erdogan had apologized for the incident, though a text of the letter that appeared later on its website quoted him as saying “Excuse us.” A statement from the Turkish presidential office didn’t refer to Erdogan’s remarks as an apology.
Russia and its Turkish “partners” will seek a resolution to the Syrian conflict together, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Paris on Wednesday after talks with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault. Lavrov said he’ll have bilateral talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavasoglu at a Black Sea Economic Cooperation conference in Russia’s Sochi on Friday.
Putin accused Turkey of a “stab in the back” for downing the jet while it was engaged in a mission against Islamic State and other militants in northern Syria. Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said the aircraft crossed into its territory and ignored warnings, while Russia insisted the plane never left Syrian airspace.
Putin warned of “serious consequences” and imposed sanctions that included a ban on charter flights that hurt Turkey’s tourism industry. Imports of some Turkish fruits and vegetables were also barred.
The tensions with Russia contributed to Turkey’s record drop in foreign-tourist arrivals in May. There was a 92 percent decline in Russian visitors as the number of overall arrivals fell by 35 percent to 2.49 million compared to a year earlier. It was Turkey’s 10th consecutive monthly fall in arrivals, the longest streak of year-on-year declines in statistics that span a decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Tourism accounts for 6.2 percent of Turkey’s economic output, according to the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, and 8 percent of employment.