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Putin and Erdogan seem like buddies again after a tense year

"This visit seems to me a new milestone in bilateral relations," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said before touching down in St. Petersburg.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Konstantin palace outside St.Petersburg, Russia. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

In his first visit abroad since an attempted coup of his government last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a big step towards rectifying a broken relationship with Russia, which has taken a serious toll on his country's economy.

"This visit seems to me a new milestone in bilateral relations, beginning with a clean slate, and I personally, with all my heart and on behalf of the Turkish nation, salute Mr Putin and all Russians," Erdogan told Russian state media, just before touching down in St. Petersburg.


In a meeting on Tuesday at the Konstantin palace, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan discussed restoring economic ties between the two countries, which were significantly reduced after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border last November, killing a crew member and a serviceman who attempted to rescue him.

Syria and anti-terrorism cooperation are also expected to be high on their agenda.

The warplane incident provoked major diplomatic discord between the two countries, with Russia imposing sanctions on Turkey that struck a major blow to trade. There have been 60.5 percent less exports from Turkey to Russia this year, compared to the same time last year, Turkey's Daily Sabah reported.

Russia suspended charter flights to Turkey, with the country's resorts — a popular destination for Russian tourists — taking a hit. The dispute also resulted in joint energy projects, such as Turkstream gas pipeline across the Black Sea and the Akkuyu nuclear plant in Turkey, stalling out of the gate. Turks were no longer allowed to travel to Russia without a visa, and Turkish workers in the country were forced out.

Related: Turkey's latest reaction to coup attempt: ban academics from traveling

"Your visit today, despite a very difficult situation regarding domestic politics, indicates that we all want to restart dialogue and restore relations," Putin said before the meeting.

Relations have been slowly thawing since Erdogan suddenly apologized to the Kremlin for the Russian bomber incident in June. After the failed coup in Turkey on July 15, Putin publicly expressed support for Erdogan, and he hasn't condemned the Turkish president's mass detentions of those allegedly responsible the same way the European Union and the US have.

This, despite the two countries being on opposite sides of the Syria conflict, with Russia backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey standing behind rebel factions.

The newfound bonhomie between Russia and Turkey also comes as relations between Erdogan and Western leaders has strained, with the Turkish president and other officials wishing the West had been more critical of the attempted coup. The US has also refused to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric the Turkish government accuses of being the mastermind of the coup without solid evidence.

"Your call straight after the coup was very pleasing for me and our leadership and our people," said the Turkish president in his opening remarks, the Guardian reported. Putin called it their "principled position," adding that Russia is "always categorically opposed to any attempts at anti-constitutional activity."

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk