Turkey: Pilot made personal choice to shoot down Russian warplane

The Turkish fighter pilot who shot down a Russian warplane late last year did so of his own volition, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek told journalists in Moscow on Tuesday.

"The decision was taken personally by the pilot," Simsek said in comments carried by Russian state news agency TASS. "Turkey has no hostile feelings to Russia, and will never have."

Turkey's leadership had already distanced itself from the pilot, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announcing last week that the airman had been detained as a conspirator in an attempted state coup.

The shooting in November, on the Syrian border, severely damaged Russia and Turkey's previously robust relations. For more than half a year, Turkey stood behind the shooting, saying the Russian plane had violated Turkish airspace.

Then last month, in a major pivot in bilateral relations, Erdogan sent his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a message expressing remorse for the incident, and the countries have begun to rebuild their ties.

On August 9, Putin will host Erdogan for a meeting in the Russian city of St Petersburg, the Kremlin said Tuesday. The meeting will be their first since the November incident.

The agenda for the talks is expected to include many issues in rebuilding bilateral relations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS.

Simsek was in Moscow on Tuesday to meet with several high-ranking officials, including his Russian counterpart Arkady Dvorkovich. "We're committed to restoring economic and political ties," Simsek wrote on Twitter.

Russian officials also appear optimistic about rebuilding bilateral ties despite political instability in Turkey following the recent coup against Erdogan and thousands of subsequent arrests.

Relations with Russia have been on a gradual course of improvement since the leadership in Ankara expressed remorse for the November incident, the Russian Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told dpa last week.

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