After Erdogan apology, Russia brings Turkey in from the cold

  • 2 July 2016
  • From the section Europe
Outside the Turkish Embassy in Moscow there's a heap of flowers and a hand-coloured paper flag.
Image caption Flowers laid outside the Turkish Embassy in Moscow after this week's suicide attack

Outside the Turkish Embassy in Moscow there is a heap of flowers and a hand-coloured paper flag left in sympathy after this week's suicide attack in Istanbul.

The pile is small and the carnations have wilted in the sun, but the gesture reflects a dramatically different mood to last November when hundreds of Russians came here to hurl stones, eggs and insults.

The breakdown in relations came after Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian military plane on the border with Syria. The pilot was killed as he attempted to parachute to safety.

Vladimir Putin lashed out, calling it a stab in the back and state media here echoed his furious tone. The airwaves filled with talk of treachery.

Then came the sanctions: a ban on charter flights to hugely popular Turkish resorts, restrictions on Turkish imports and for firms operating here and the introduction of visas.

In a matter of months, one opinion poll showed Turkey leaping from nowhere to third place among the countries Russians view as their enemy, behind the US and Ukraine.

But that anger is now dissipating as suddenly as it was whipped-up.

Media captionThis video shows a plane falling to the ground on the Syrian border with Turkey

This week, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally apologised for downing the plane - or that is how Russia is reading his carefully chosen words.

President Putin, who had insisted on that apology, immediately ordered talks on restoring ties.

In what many saw as a battle of wills, it looks like Mr Erdogan blinked first. The political about-turn that followed has been dizzyingly swift.

By Friday, the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers were shaking hands in Sochi. And after months accusing Turkey of collaborating with extremist groups in Syria, Russia now says military and anti-terrorist contacts have been renewed.

Next up, are package holidays. Turkey has long been a key destination for Russians and their sudden disappearance hit the local economy hard. Ankara now says charter flights will resume by 7 July.

Russia's official reason for cancelling flights was security concerns, after Moscow accused Ankara of supporting extremists.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The downing of the plane sparked a furious row between the Russian and Turkish leaders

Turkey argues that this week's devastating bomb attack on Istanbul airport was further grim proof that it is not an ally of so-called Islamic State, but a target.

Still, the increased terror threat has made some Russians wary of visiting.

"I think it's frightening, I wouldn't recommend it," Tatyana told me, as she waited for a bus in central Moscow.

She has enjoyed holidays in Turkey before, but says she will not go back for now.

"I'd prefer to visit my grandparents in the country instead," she said.

Others displayed a typically Russian insouciance.

"People visited Egypt during the Arab Spring and I think tourist areas are well protected," Evgeny said, adding that his family had to holiday in Russia this year, and it had been lower quality and more expensive.

Tour agencies have already reported a surge in enquiries about Turkey.

Image caption The front page of Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reads "You can go on holiday to Turkey again"

"I would say the reaction was quite restrained despite efforts to stir it up, so will be quick and easy to switch back.

"It's not like the anti Western mood which has deeper roots and is based on resentment," argues Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada research centre.

While people were genuinely upset when the plane was downed, he says, their anger was directed at the Turkish authorities not its people.

"I think there will be some aftertaste, but if the campaign is not escalated again then it will all be forgotten quite quickly," Mr Gudkov believes.

Those heading to work close to the Turkish Embassy, generally agreed.

"They wound us up for so long, then all of a sudden it's over! It's all so fast, my brain hasn't switched yet!" Sergei said. He has been to Turkey five times on holiday and plans to return.

"It did feel like a betrayal, but those feelings pass," Alexander argued.

"Politicians play their games and people suffer. I think it's wrong to punish the whole country for that."

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