In remarks during his year-end press conference on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had begun to be convinced that it was not Turkey’s leaders who downed a Russian jet in November 2015 despite the conflicting statements of high-level Turkish officials on the incident.
Putin said he used to view with suspicion the argument that those who sought to damage Russian-Turkish relations downed the jet but was beginning to change his mind, a remark that came only days after the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara by a Turkish police officer.
The Russian leader said today that he had begun to change his mind about who gave the order to shoot down the jet following the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. Although he did not specify any perpetrator, Putin seemingly bought the argument of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Turkey has revised its Syria policy and agreed not to prioritize the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but rather fighting against terrorism, in line with Russia’s priorities.
Turkish military aircraft near Turkey’s border with Syria shot down a Russian fighter jet on Nov. 24, 2015. Following the incident, contradictory statements came from the two countries. According to Russian President Putin, missiles fired by Turkish F-16s struck the Su-24 as it was flying over Syrian territory. However, the Turkish government claimed that the Russian plane violated Turkish airspace and was engaged after being warned.
At the time, Erdoğan defied Russia on Nov. 26, 2015, saying that if a similar violation were to be committed today, the response would be the same. Then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated that same month that he gave the order to shoot down the jet. However, after Russia imposed sanctions on Turkey and began to circulate reports that Turkey was smuggling Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) oil from Syria, the rhetoric of the Turkish government began to change.
In May, Erdoğan said the downing of the Russian jet by Turkish F-16s on the grounds that it had violated Turkish airspace was actually the Russian pilot’s mistake. Erdoğan stated, “It is really thought provoking for Russia to give up on all of Turkey due to the fault or mistake of one pilot.”
In June, Erdoğan apologized to Russia in a letter and went to Moscow to meet with Putin. After mending fences with Russia, Erdoğan continued to change his rhetoric and with the help of his army of Internet trolls put the blame on the Gülen movement.