‘Friends’ Putin, Erdogan announce joint efforts

Associated Press

St. Petersburg, Russia — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday after talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that the two nations can rebuild their damaged ties and make them even closer, promising to back major energy projects with Russia.

Calling Putin his “dear friend,” Erdogan said Turkey 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 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.

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 particularly mentioned Putin’s call, which he said “gladdened me, my colleagues and our people.”

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 is pressing the United States hard to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government blames for the failed coup. Gulen denies the claims.