(CNN) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that his government is “really saddened” about shooting down a Russian warplane, insisting that he does not want to ramp up tensions but falling short of offering the apology Moscow has demanded.
Tuesday’s incident has put Russia and Turkey, which is a member of NATO, at odds. The countries disagree sharply on whether the Russian plane was in Turkish airspace when it was shot down, as well as whether any warnings went out to the crew. The incident left one pilot dead; another was rescued.
The entire ordeal has raised questions about international leaders’ ability to come together to combat ISIS, which has taken over swaths of Syria and Iraq and claimed attacks in Europe, Asia and Africa.
One day after saying Turkey fired missiles as “an automatic reaction to a border breach” — and not knowing the nationality of the plane in question — Erdogan said Saturday, “We wouldn’t have wished this to happen. But, unfortunately, it did.”
The powerful Turkish leader didn’t lash out at Russia but appeared intent on taking the high road by claiming that “Turkey has never been in favor of triggering tensions and clashes, and we never will be.”
“I hope this will not happen again,” Erdogan said at an event in Balikesir. “As long as our sovereign rights are not violated, our struggle will continue through diplomatic channels, adhering to international laws and agreements.
The President added, “We hope that the tensions with Russia will not grow and result in more saddening incidents.”
In fact, Erdogan appealed for dialogue, saying the upcoming U.N. climate change conference in Paris, which he and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend, would be a good place to have such talks. (This week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin knew that Erdogan had asked to meet with him in France but gave no word on whether the request would be accepted.)
“We tell Russia, ‘Let’s talk about this issue within its boundaries, and let’s settle it,’ ” Erdogan said Saturday. “Let’s not make others happy by escalating it to a level that would hurt all our relations.’ “
Putin has accused Turkey of trying to bring its relations with Russia to a “dead end,” calling the shootdown “a stab in the back” and tying Turkey to terrorists. Another point of contention: Russia claimed that its planes were bombing ISIS militants in the area, though Erdogan has said that only Turkmen — “our brothers and sisters” — were there at the time.
In an exclusive CNN interview Thursday, the Turkish President defended his military and said Russia’s own was at fault.
“I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us,” he said from the Turkish capital. “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to … violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence.”
Far from apologizing, Russia has instead lashed out at Turkey — not just with words but with actions, like a decree signed Saturday by Putin.
This measure partially suspends the “visa-free” travel process the countries have had, mandates that Russian travel agencies stop selling tours to Turkey for next year and bans charter transportation between the nations, according to state-run Sputnik news.
This decree also prohibits the import of certain goods from Turkey.
The claimed rationale for all this is spelled out in the decree’s name: “Measures to guarantee national security in the Russian Federation and protect Russian citizens against criminal and other illegal actions.”