Erdogan and ‘dear friend’ Putin mend relations, agree energy projects

Putin and Erdogan shake hands

Putin and Erdogan shake hands

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday after talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow that the two nations can rebuild their damaged relations and move them even closer, promising to back major energy projects with Russia.

Calling Putin his “dear friend” and hailing the start of “a very different period” in relations between the two countries”, Erdogan said Ankara is ready to implement a natural gas pipeline project with Russia and a deal to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

Putin, in his turn, said that the flow of Russian tourists to Turkey, halted after the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey in November, will resume. He also promised to gradually lift restrictions on imports of Turkish agricultural products.

Putin added that he and Erdogan would have a separate discussion on Syria later Tuesday 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 al-Assad throughout the nation’s civil war and further bolstered that support by launching an air campaign last September, Turkey has backed Assad’s foes.

Turkish officials underscored that Erdogan’s visit to Russia was not intended to signal a fundamental shift in Ankara’s geopolitical stance. Turkey hosts American troops and warplanes at its Incirlik Air Base, an important staging area for the US-led fight against
Islamic State militants in neighbouring Iraq and Syria

Downed Russian jet

Previously close ties between Moscow and Ankara broke down after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border. They remained at a freezing point for seven months until Erdogan met the key Russian condition for restoring ties by offering his apology over the incident.

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 made a point of mentioning Putin’s phone call following the coup attempt, which he said “gladdened me, my colleagues and our people.”

Playing the ‘Russian card’

Analysts say that Erdogan may also be hoping to play the Russian card to strengthen his hand in disputes with the United States and European Union.

Turkey said Tuesday that Ankara would stop implementing a key deal with Brussels which has stemmed the flow of migrants into the bloc if the EU does not provide a clear date to grant visa-free travel for Turks visiting Europe.

Turkey is pressing the United States hard to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government blames for the failed coup in which more than 240 people were killed and nearly 2,200 wounded. Gulen denies the claims. The cleric has lived in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania since 1999.

Turkey also warned of rising anti-American sentiment, with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag saying Turks could only be calmed by the USA extraditing Gulen. A recent opinion poll showed two thirds of Turks agree with their president that Gulen was behind the coup plot.