Putin hosts Erdoğan for high-level talks

Putin hosts Erdoğan for high-level talks

Putin hosts Erdoğan for high-level talks

AP Photo

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, met in Moscow on March 10 for a bilateral high-level cooperation council summit. 

The summit, joined by cabinet ministers from both sides, marks the first such council meeting since relations were strained over Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet in November 2015, which led to the cancelation of the subsequent meeting. It is the two leaders’ fourth meeting in seven months during the normalization process since the jet crisis.

“We are actively working to solve the most acute crises, first of all in Syria,” Putin said as he greeted Erdoğan at the start of the talks. 

“I’m very pleased to note, and few seemed to expect it, that our military and special services have established such efficient and close contact.”

Erdogan noted that cooperation in building a prospective Russian natural gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant in Turkey had also regained pace.

The two countries brokered a cease-fire in December 2015 that helped reduce the scale of fighting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition, and they also co-sponsored two rounds of talks this year between al-Assad’s government and its foes. A third round is set for next week.

Russia and Turkey coordinated their operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. 

A Russian air raid last month accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers, but the incident did not derail the military coordination.

Earlier this week, the chief military officers from Russia, the United States and Turkey met in the Turkish city of Antalya in an apparent attempt to work out additional steps to prevent incidents.

Turkey’s opposition to any moves to ally with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, which it declares as terrorists, was also on the agenda. 

Turkey said it would take part in a move on ISIL’s stronghold in Raqqa as long as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), are excluded. 

The increasingly close cooperation on Syria between Russia and Turkey marked a sharp turnaround for the two nations, which have backed opposing sides in Syria, as Moscow has sided with al-Assad and Turkey has supported rebel groups against him since the start of the Syrian conflict six years ago.

Turkey and Russia will sign several agreements, Turkish presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said one day before the summit, adding that discussions would also include the process that was launched after normalization began last year but have not yet been completed. 

While restoring ties with Turkey, Russia has hesitated to definitively lift restrictions on trade and the economy. 

Turkey downed a Russian warplane at the Syrian border in November 2015 for breaching its air space. Moscow responded by barring the sales of package tours to Turkey and halting the imports of agricultural products, moves that badly hurt the Turkish economy.

In June 2016, Erdoğan penned a letter to Putin, expressing Turkey’s sorrow for downing the plane. The move helped rebuild ties, while Putin also offered firm support to the Turkish leader in the wake of a botched coup last July.

Despite the rapprochement, Russia has only moved gradually to lift economic restrictions, keeping some in place as an apparent motivator for Turkey. 

On the eve of the Kremlin talks, it allowed the imports of a few other agricultural products from Turkey.
“We are pleased to see our ties recovering at a quick tempo,” Putin said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoglu, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Berat Albayrak, Defense Minister Fikri Işık, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, Agriculture Minister Faruk Çelik, Culture and Tourism Minister Nabi Avcı, Transport and Maritime Affairs Minister Ahmet Arslan and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ are also participating in the Turkish delegation, as is Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar.