“We definitely need to improve relations with Russia,” Erdogan told reporters at the capital's Esenboga Airport before starting a four-day, four-nation East African tour, but he added that it was the mistake of a Russian pilot that ended up damaging ties between Ankara and Moscow.

Referring to Turkey shooting down a Russian Su-24 last November when it crossed over from Syria’s airspace to Turkey’s, Erdogan said, “It is thought-provoking that [Russia] sacrificed great Turkey due to [a] pilot’s mistake or fault while our relationship with Mr. Putin was at really very different point as two good friends."

The intruding Russian jet was warned 10 times that it was violating Turkish airspace before it was shot down.

His remarks follow a recent Kremlin statement saying that Turkey should take the first step to mend the damaged ties.

Addressing a press briefing in Moscow Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “No working group can tackle the question between Turkey and Russia unless Turkey takes a step first.”

Putin also said during his weekend visit to Athens: “We expect Turkey to move further on this matter, yet have seen no concrete steps.”

But Erdogan said, "I am curious... What kind of a move are they expecting from us? I find this hard to understand. We are not a country which is sitting in the witness stand and definitely not the side which wants to hurt ties."

After the incident, Russia imposed a range of unilateral economic sanctions against Turkey, including a ban on food imports.

Anadolu Agency