Vladimir Putin has met his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time since restoring ties in June, as Moscow and Ankara rebuild relations amid mounting tensions between Turkey and the West.
Mr Erdogan landed in St Petersburg on Tuesday afternoon after vowing to turn “a new page” in a relationship that was plunged into crisis when Turkey shot down a Russian military jet over Syria in November.
"Your visit today, despite a very difficult situation regarding domestic politics, indicates that we all want to restart dialogue and restore relations between Russia and Turkey," Mr Putin said as the pair met in the city’s Constantine Palace.
Mr Erdogan said the Turkish people were "happy" Mr Putin had expressed his support following an attempted coup last month, and that he expected the two countries to "enter into a very different phase with the steps we will take and have taken."
Russia and Turkey have previously referred to one another as “strategic partners”, but relations between the Black Sea neighbours have been strained since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Ankara has supported Syria’s rebels since the beginning of the war and insists on the departure of president Bashar al-Assad, a key Russian ally. Russia entered the war on Mr Assad’s side in September last year.
Tensions came to a head in November, when a Turkish fighter shot down a Russian jet carrying out a bombing mission in northern Syria.
The incident sparked a diplomatic crisis that saw both countries accuse one another of sponsoring terrorism. Russia imposed swinging economic sanctions that dealt a body blow to Turkey’s tourism, construction, and agricultural sectors.
Mr Erdogan apologized for the shoot down in June, and announced Turkey would cooperate with Moscow on finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian war despite supporting different sides in the conflict.
The detente comes amid a surge in anti-Western sentiment in Turkey and a growing rift between Ankara and its traditional allies in Nato.
Turkey’s relations with its Western allies, already strained by Washington’s support for Syria’s Kurds and the EU’s unwillingness to grant visa-free travel to Turks, have deteriorated since the July 15 coup attempt.
Turkish officials warned relations with the United States could suffer if the US does not extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pensylvania-based preacher who Ankara blames for inspiring the coup.
"If the US does not deliver (Gulen), they will sacrifice relations with Turkey for the sake of a terrorist," Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s Justice Minister, told reporters during a televised briefing in Ankara on Tuesday.
Turkey’s leaders have also expressed frustration with Europe’s focus on the post-coup purge of thousands of civil servants and a lack of solidarity from Brussels, noting that no European official visited the country after the coup to show support.
“The Western world must show solidarity with Turkey, which has adopted its democratic values. Unfortunately, Western leaders have preferred to leave Turkish people to themselves,” Mr Erdogan told Le Monde on Monday.
"Putin did not criticise me regarding the number of soldiers and public servants suspended from their duties when he called me to extend his condolences," he added.
Turkish ministers have sought to reassure NATO allies that the country is committed to the alliance, however, with Mevlüt Cavusoglu, the country's foreign minister, insisting that relations with Russia were no alternative to NATO and the EU.
The Turkish president traveled to St Petersburg with a cadre of government ministers, including Mr Cavusoglu, the deputy prime minister Mehmet Simsek, economy minister Nihat Zeybekci, and Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s national intelligence agency.
The delegation also includes Berat Albayrak, Mr Erdogan’s son-in-law and energy minister, and Nabi Avci, the tourism minister, highlighting Turkey’s desire to restore economic ties.
The number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey fell by as much as 95 per cent following the diplomatic freeze, a disastrous drop for an industry already reeling from a string of terror attacks.
Russia provides more than half of Turkey’s gas imports. Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy monopoly, is contracted to build the country’s first nuclear power plant.
Source : www.telegraph.co.uk/