MOSCOW: Vowing to restore an "axis of friendship" between Ankara and Moscow, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed yesterday (Tuesday) to increase defence cooperation, amid a growing rift between Turkey and the West.
Speaking in St Petersburg on his first overseas trip since facing down an attempted coup last month, Mr Erdogan thanked his "dear friend" Mr Putin and said the two countries would restore diplomatic and economic ties that were shattered when Turkey shot down a Russian military jet over Syria last year.
"The fact Mr Putin called me the next day after the coup attempt was a very strong psychological factor," he said at a joint press conference. "The axis of friendship between Moscow and Ankara will be restored."
As the two leaders met at the city's Constantine Palace, Mr Putin said: "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."
Turkey shot down the jet, carrying out a bombing mission in northern Syria, in November 2015, resulting in the deaths of two Russian servicemen.
Russia responded with a range of economic sanctions and accused Mr Erdogan of personally benefiting from illegal cross-border oil trade with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) terror group.
Ties were improved in June, when Mr Erdogan issued a surprise apology.
Mr Putin said yesterday that Russia would lift sanctions "step by step", including by removing a ban on tourist charter flights, but he cautioned that it would take "painstaking work" to achieve previous trade levels.
Mr Erdogan in turn promised to back major Russian energy projects in Turkey, including a gas pipeline to Europe. He also said the two countries would step up defence cooperation. Russia suspended military cooperation with Turkey after the jet incident. The two presidents declined to comment on their differences over the Syrian civil war, saying they would discuss the issue at a meeting with military and security chiefs later in the day. "As you know, our outlooks on how the Syrian crisis should be managed have not always been aligned," said Mr Putin, adding that he hoped the sides could find a "mutually acceptable solution".
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.
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.
One Turkish official warned yesterday that relations with the United States could suffer if the US does not extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher whom 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, said.