Few signs of reconciliation as Russia enacts sanctions against Turkey

Despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying he's 'deeply saddened' about the shooting of a Russian jet, Vladimir Putin refuses to budge, enacting bans on goods and ending the visa-free travel between the two countries. 

Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Press Service, Pool
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a rally in Bayburt, Turkey, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. Russia announced Friday that it will suspend visa-free travel with Turkey amid the escalating spat over the downing of a Russian warplane by a Turkish fighter jet at the Syrian border.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey offered a small but notable olive branch to Russia on Saturday, saying he is “deeply saddened” by its downing of a Russian fighter jet last week, but the gesture has fallen short of reconciliation.

Hours after Mr. Erdoğan's remarks, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into force a number of sanctions against Turkey. His decree will ban certain goods from Turkey and calls for the end of visa-free travel between the two countries. He has urged vacation companies to stop selling packages that include a stay in Turkey.

The sanctions will also send home Turkish laborers in Russia if their contracts end next year, as Mr. Putin has forbidden any contract extensions.

At an event in Balıkesir on Saturday, Erdoğan expressed a token of regret to his supporters about shooting down the warplane Tuesday, which resulted in the death of a pilot.

“We are truly saddened by this incident,” he said. “We wish it hadn’t happened as such, but unfortunately such a thing has happened. I hope that something like this doesn’t occur again.”

"We hope that the tensions with Russia will not grow and result in more saddening incidents," he added.

Putin, however, has been expecting an apology. As BBC reports, he expected an utterance of "sorry" from Turkey, and will not answer the phone to Erdoğan until it is said. Erdoğan tried to set up a meeting to no avail.

But Turkey is also unwilling to admit fault. Since the incident Tuesday, Erdoğan has insisted that Russia invaded its airspace, and that the jet’s pilots had been given several warnings.

"I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us," Erdoğan told CNN Thursday. "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."

But Russia disagrees that its Sukhoi Su-24 had been in Turkish airspace when it was shot down, and it disputes claims of warnings issued by Turkey. When the jet’s two pilots were parachuting down, rebels from Syria's ethnic Turkmen community opened fire. One pilot died before reaching the ground, and the other was rescued.

“The circumstances are unprecedented. The gauntlet thrown down to Russia is unprecedented. So naturally the reaction is in line with this threat," Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said right before the new sanctions were enacted.

Both countries say they are combating ISIS in Syria, but Russia is a known supporter of President Bashar al-Assad, whom Turkey, a member of NATO, opposes. Turkey, also a member of the US-led coalition in Syria, maintains that President Assad must step down before the Syrian conflict can be truly solved.

But Turkey and Russia have long shared an economic partnership. Russia is Turkey’s second largest trading partner, and the two countries exchange millions of tourists each year. Experts are doubtful that the standoff will further escalate.

Despite Putin’s reluctance, Erdoğan says the upcoming UN climate change summit in Paris will be a good opportunity for the two leaders to chat.

"We tell Russia, 'Let's talk about this issue within its boundaries, and let's settle it,'" Erdoğan said Saturday. "’Let's not make others happy by escalating it to a level that would hurt all our relations.'"

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