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Turkey apologizes to Russia, raising prospects of renewed ties

Tense relations between Ankara and Moscow looked to be easing Monday after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized for having downed a Russian military jet near the Syrian border last November.

In a letter sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan "expressed deep regret for what happened," a Kremlin press release explained on Monday.

"We never had the desire or deliberate intention of shooting down the Russian Federation's plane," Erdogan wrote, saying judicial investigations were underway against the Turkish citizen said to be involved in the pilot's death.

A spokesperson for President Erdogan confirmed a letter had been sent to Putin, according to Reuters.

The months-old spat saw Russia restrict tourism, clamp down on agricultural imports and set stringent visa limits in the days after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border on November 24, killing one of the two pilots on board. It came shortly after Russia launched its military intervention in September amid Syria's years-long civil war.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) presents personalized stamps to Russian President Vladimit Putin (R) on November 16, 2015.
Kayhan Ozer | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) presents personalized stamps to Russian President Vladimit Putin (R) on November 16, 2015.

"Net-net, if Russia responds by lifting the ban on Russian tourists visiting Turkey, this will be positive for Turkey. It kind of also shows Erdogan to be pragmatic," Timothy Ash, head of emerging market strategy at Nomura International, wrote in an emailed analyst comment.

Ash also speculated that Britain's recent referendum might have had a role to play in Turkey's sudden interest in extending the olive branch.

"This might be a Turkish reaction to Brexit, and the assumption that the EU, and the EU accession anchor will now weaken, and that Turkey needs to make up with its neighbors," Ash wrote.