Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday he was "truly saddened" by Tuesday's incident, in which Turkish F-16 jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border.
"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," he said.
It was the first partly conciliatory statement from the Turkish leader since the jet's downing, which has angered Russia and led to a breakdown in relations between the two countries. Turkey insists the plane violated its airspace and was sent repeated warnings to change its course. Moscow says it never entered Turkish territory and was fired at without notice.
Addressing his supporters in the western city of Balikesir, Erdogan warned that neither country should allow the situation to escalate and take a destructive form that would have "dire consequences in the future." He also renewed his call for a "face to face" meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Paris climate talks next week.
"What we tell Russia is: 'Let's resolve this issue between ourselves and within its boundaries. Let's not make others happy by destroying our whole relationship," Erdogan said.
"Russia is important for Turkey as much as Turkey is important for Russia. Both countries cannot afford to give up on each other."
President Putin, who condemned the incident as a "treacherous stab in the back," has since refused to take telephone calls from the Turkish leader. He has also demanded an apology.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, on Saturday said the Russian leader was aware of Erdogan's request for a meeting, but gave no indication about whether it might take place. Peskov called the Turkish air force's behavior "absolute madness" and said Ankara's handling of the crisis resembled the "theater of the absurd."
"Nobody has the right to traitorously shoot down a Russian plane from behind," Peskov told Russia's "News on Saturday" TV program, adding that the president was "mobilized, fully mobilized, mobilized to the extent that circumstances demand."
Amid the crisis, Russia has restricted visa-free travel between the two countries and started preparing a string of economic sanctions. Turkey, for its part, has warned its citizens to avoid traveling to Russia, saying Turkish travelers were facing "problems" in the country.
nm/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)