Turkish president Recep Tayip Ergodan is meeting with “his friend” Vladimir Putin in hopes of turning a fresh page in the two countries’ relations. It is their first meeting since Turkey downed a Russian bomber over Syria last November.
Ankara appears to expect much from the meeting, which is taking place in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
“This will be a historic visit, a fresh start. I believe that a new page will be opened [during]... the negotiations with my friend Vladimir [Putin],” President Erdogan told TASS news agency in an exclusive interview ahead of the visit, adding that “there is yet much for our countries to do together.”
Erdogan’s statement was echoed by Turkish ambassador to Russia Umit Yardim, who told RIA Novosti: “I can definitely say that it will be a historic meeting. We were preparing it for nearly one month.”
He said the two leaders are expected to meet tête-à-tête and then come out with a “roadmap” to help bring Russia-Turkey relations “to a brand new level.”
While Ankara is obviously eager to improve ties with Moscow, which have seen a dramatic downturn as of late, Russia has maintained a more reserved and pragmatic approach.
“The Syrian crisis will be discussed in depth and we hope that Turkey’s position will become more constructive,” Yury Ushakov, Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy aide, told reporters on Friday.
Moscow and Ankara still largely disagree on Syria, as Turkey wants President Bashar Assad to be ousted, while Russia supports him and the Syrian army in their fight against Islamists. Russia’s Defense Ministry has accused Turkey of aiding Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL) in the past, citing data indicating that the militants are being re-supplied and re-armed from Turkey.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday: “We have a serious conversation ahead on how, at what pace, and in what sequence we will work on restoring our relations.”
The talks will likely center on “current economy-related issues” and the Syrian crisis. “You may feel free to forecast that an in-depth conversation on regional affairs, including Syria, will also take place,” he stressed.
Ties between Moscow and Ankara hit rock bottom last November, when Turkey’s Air Force shot down a Russian military jet over Syria. One of the two pilots was killed, as was a marine who took part in a rescue operation.
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Erdogan said he had repeatedly tried to contact Putin in the hours and days that followed the downing, but was told by the Kremlin that the Russian leader would not speak to him until he apologized, which the Turkish strongman pointedly refused to do.
The incident, which President Putin described as “stab in the back by terrorists’ affiliates,” provoked a harsh response from Russia.
Moscow imposed a number of sanctions on Turkey, including an embargo on food imports, a ban on the sale of package tours, and the introduction of a visa regime – measures that apparently sent Turkey’s booming tourism industry into a nosedive.
Relations between the two countries began to thaw in late June after Erdogan sent a letter to the Kremlin that was viewed in Moscow as offering an apology for downing Russia’s jet. The letter, quoted by the Kremlin, said Turkey was “ready for any initiatives to relieve the pain and severity of the damage done.”
The one-day meeting in Saint Petersburg also marked President Erdogan’s first foreign visit since the failed military coup attempt in Turkey, which has strained relations between Ankara and the West.
Moscow said it acknowledged that Turkey is serious about restoring closer relations between the two countries. “The Turkish President is coming to St. Petersburg, despite a relatively complicated situation at home,” Ushakov asserted.