Ankara calls on Russia to form joint working group to mend fences

Senior government officials have reiterated that Turkey intends to restore relations with Russia and have made a call for Russia to establish a joint working group to discuss which steps should be taken to such ends. Speaking to reporters at the end of a conference in Antalya, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that finding a common path for a solution is not an impossible task: “Turkey also wants to restore ties. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin says that they want to see a step. What we say is let’s form a joint working group to take these steps and [Russia] can discuss and produce ideas about which steps we should take.” Çavuşoğlu’s comments come after Putin said on Friday that he is ready to consider restoring relations with Ankara, but that he requires Turkey to take the first step.

“Russia also wants to restore relations with Turkey; we still don’t understand why our plane was shot down,” Putin told a press conference in Athens, standing beside Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Çavuşoğlu said: “Aren’t we talking with Israel now? Our diplomats, bureaucrats talk with them. Why? We discuss how we are going to take steps in regard to the remaining conditions. That was our suggestion to Russia.”

In response to Çavuşoğlu’s remarks, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said yesterday that the government alone can solve the problem and rebuked Turkey’s suggestion of establishing a joint working group to discuss how relations can be reconciled. “No working group can tackle the question between Turkey and Russia unless Turkey takes the first step,” he said. He added that the first move should come from Turkey, citing Putin’s words in Athens.Speaking to reporters following a Council of Ministers meeting yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş also spoke on the issue and said Turkey is neither eager to discard Russia nor vice versa since the deterioration of relations in November.

“The two countries are old friends, rivals and they have fortified their relations. Relations became tense with a situation [created by] the Syrian crisis. Turkey did not take part blatantly in this jet’s being shot down. Turkey has officially expressed that it does not acknowledge the identity of the jet.”

Asserting that dwelling on this subject is not beneficial for Russia, Kurtulmuş added that he thinks bilateral relations can be restored through dialogue.

Relations between the two countries hit a low in November 2015 after Turkish jets downed a Russian Su-24 bomber near the Syrian border for violating Turkish airspace. Turkey provided radar data that the Russian planes breached the border while Moscow insisted that the warplane had not crossed the border.Ankara has made several attempts to resolve the crisis with Russia, but has not received a warm response from the Kremlin. In April, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu offered a face-to-face meeting with Russian leaders to settle the diplomatic row. Çavuşoğlu said Ankara expects a recovery in the strained relationship with Russia, but warned that the process would require patience as they want an end to “groundless accusations.”

Following the incident, Moscow announced wide-ranging sanctions against Turkey starting in January, including the end of visa-free travel and a ban on Turkish food products. Russia also called for their nationals to boycott Turkey as a tourist destination.

Turkey and Russia have for years differed over policy towards Syria and Ukraine. Turkey hasn’t recognized the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea in 2014, and has repeatedly accused Moscow of supporting the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.