The Russian and Turkish presidents vowed to restore their friendship on Tuesday, ending an eight month stand-off over the Syrian conflict as economic pressures and the failed coup in Turkey drive the two countries closer together.
Vladimir Putin met Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a former imperial residence outside St Petersburg overlooking the Gulf of Finland, their first meeting since Turkish forces shot down a Russian military aircraft on the Syrian border in November last year.
The “axis of friendship” between Russia and Turkey had been resurrected, Mr Erdogan said following more than four hours of talks. Relations between the two countries would be closer than before their quarrel over Syria — which brought them to the brink of military conflict — he added.
The two nations’ ties “are a lot more robust than ever, and they will help us resist any potential crises”, Mr Erdogan said, addressing Mr Putin as “my dear friend” three times in as many minutes.
The Russian leader was more reserved, barely breaking a smile when the two faced reporters.
“There have been dramatic periods in our relations, but inevitably our mutual respect gained the upper hand,” Mr Putin said. “We want to and we will restore relations to the full dimension. We feel the sincerity of our Turkish friends and want to do this”
Mr Putin reacted furiously when the Turkish military shot down the Russian fighter, imposing various embargoes on trade with Turkey, covering tourism, construction and food exports to Russia. Moscow also accused Ankara and Mr Erdogan personally of enabling terrorism in Syria and profiting from illegal oil trade with the Islamic militant group Isis.
But on Tuesday, Mr Putin said the full restoration of economic and trade ties was “only a question of time”. Moscow and Ankara would seek to develop economic relations under a three-year programme running until 2019, he added. However, he did not give concrete deadlines for the revival of a visa-free travel regime and Russian charter flights to Turkey.
Mr Erdogan’s choice of Russia for his first foreign trip following the failed coup against him in July gave the summit broader geopolitical significance, with some in the west fearing that Nato member Turkey could be drawn into Moscow’s orbit despite the Syria conflict, in which they support opposite sides.
Mr Erdogan was incensed by what he saw as a lack of solidarity from his western allies following the attempted putsch and criticism of the ensuing crackdown. In contrast, he welcomed the fact that the Kremlin gave him its unequivocal backing.
“The western world must show solidarity with Turkey, which has adopted its democratic values,” Mr Erdogan told France’s Le Monde newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. “Unfortunately western leaders have preferred to leave Turkish people to themselves.
“Instead of showing empathy, western leaders had the opposite reaction. This makes us sad and it is unacceptable.”
The rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara began in June, before the coup attempt, when the Kremlin accepted Mr Erdogan’s apology for the downing of the Russian aircraft. Within days, officials from both countries had begun talks to roll back the Russian sanctions.
In Saint Petersburg, the atmosphere had improved enough for the summit lunch table to be decked out with plates featuring a photo of the two leaders shaking hands.
Later in the afternoon the two leaders were joined by diplomatic and military chiefs to discuss the war in Syria. “It’s well known that we are far from agreeing on the issue of Syria, but we have a common goal: that this crisis needs to be resolved,” Mr Putin said.
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