Putin, Erdogan agree to mend relations
ST PETERSBURG (AP):
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday after talks with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, that the two nations can rebuild their damaged ties and make them even closer, promising to back major energy projects with Russia.
Repeatedly calling Putin his "dear friend", Erdogan said Turkey is ready to implement a natural-gas pipeline project proposed by Moscow and a deal for Russia to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant.
Putin, in turn, said the flow of Russian tourists to Turkey - halted after the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey in November - will resume soon. He also promised to gradually lift an embargo on imports of Turkish agricultural products and other restrictions.
Putin added that he and Erdogan would have a separate discussion on Syria involving top military and intelligence officials to search for common ground in the crisis, where Moscow and Ankara have backed the opposing sides.
While Moscow has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the nation's civil war and further bolstered that support by launching an air campaign last September, Turkey has pushed for Assad's removal.
Previously close ties between Moscow and Ankara broke down after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border, an incident that Putin had described as a "treacherous stab in the back". Relations remained at a freezing point for seven months until Erdogan apologised to Russia in June.
Putin then ordered his government to start rebuilding ties with Turkey, and when Erdogan faced a botched coup attempt on July 15, the Russian leader quickly offered his support.
Erdogan particularly mentioned Putin's gesture, saying it "gladdened me, my colleagues and our people".
Analysts say that Erdogan may now be hoping to play the Russian card to strengthen his hand in disputes with the United States and the European Union.
Turkey is pressing the United States hard to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government blames for the failed coup. Gulen denies the claims.
The dispute has strained US-Turkish ties, with some Turkish officials implying the US could have been behind the coup. Washington has denied that.