Putin orders government to start ‘normalizing’ trade with Turkey
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Putin orders government to start ‘normalizing’ trade with Turkey

Russian, Turkish presidents hold first phone call since rift began over downing of Russian plane, agree to meet

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses students during his visit to the German Embassy school in Moscow, June 29, 2016. AFP/POOL/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses students during his visit to the German Embassy school in Moscow, June 29, 2016. AFP/POOL/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW, Russia — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered his government to begin the process of lifting sanctions imposed against Turkey after Ankara shot down a Russian warplane last year.

“I ask that the Russian government begins the process of normalizing general trade and economic ties with Turkey,” Putin said at a cabinet meeting following a telephone conversation with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

First on his list were travel restrictions between the countries.

“I want to start with the question of tourism … we are lifting the administrative restrictions in this area,” Putin told government ministers in televised comments.

The move came after earlier in the day Putin and Erdogan held their first phone call since Ankara downed one of Moscow’s jets in Syria last year.

Screen capture from video by Haberturk TV showing a Russian warplane on fire before crashing on a hill as seen from Hatay province, Turkey, November 24, 2015. (Haberturk TV via AP)
Screen capture from video by Haberturk TV showing a Russian warplane on fire before crashing on a hill as seen from Hatay province, Turkey, November 24, 2015. (Haberturk TV via AP)

A statement from the Turkish presidency said Erdogan and Putin “highlighted the importance of the normalization of bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia.”

The November incident froze relations between the two nations and saw Moscow slap sanctions on Ankara.

Putin also condemned the “heinous” attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport Tuesday that killed at least 41 people and offered condolences to the Turkish people, the statement said.

“Reiterating their commitment to reinvigorate bilateral relations and fight terrorism together, the two leaders agreed to remain in contact and meet in person,” Erdogan’s office said.

The Kremlin confirmed that the conversation took place and said a statement would be released.

The breakthrough phone call by Putin came after Erdogan on Monday sent a letter to the Kremlin leader that Moscow said contained an apology.

The downing of the plane in November ruptured relations and saw Moscow impose a raft of sanctions, including an embargo on Turkish food products and a ban on charter flights and the sale of package tours to the country. It also sparked a bitter war of words between the leaders with Putin calling it a “stab in the back” and demanding an apology from Erdogan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, sits down as Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks on before a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. (photo credit: AP/Tolga Bozoglu, Pool)
Russian President Vladimir Putin sits down as Turkey’s then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks on before a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, December 3, 2012. (AP/Tolga Bozoglu, Pool)

Ankara has said Erdogan expressed his “regret” over the incident in Monday’s letter to Putin and asked the family of the pilot who died to “excuse us,” but has not explicitly confirmed he apologized for shooting down the plane.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday described the letter as an “important step” but warned that “there is no need to think that in several days it will be possible to normalize everything.”

Turkey has argued that the Russian plane strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, but Russia insisted it did not cross the border and accused Turkey of a “planned provocation.”

The countries are on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Ankara backing rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad while Moscow is one of his last remaining allies.

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