SAINT PETERSBURG • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked to rebuild ties as they met yesterday - for the first time since Ankara downed one of Moscow's warplanes last November - in a reconciliation that has gained in significance since a section of Turkey's military attempted a takeover.
Mr Erdogan's visit to Mr Putin's hometown of Saint Petersburg was his first foreign trip since the failed coup last month sparked a purge of opponents and cast a shadow over Turkey's ties with the West.
"Your visit... despite a very difficult situation regarding domestic politics, indicates that we all want to restart dialogue and restore relations between Russia and Turkey," Mr Putin said.
Your visit... despite a very difficult situation regarding domestic politics, indicates that we all want to restart dialogue and restore relations between Russia and Turkey.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN
JOINT ACTION NEEDED
Russia is a main, key and very important player in establishing peace in Syria... The problem needs to be solved with the help of joint steps between Russia and Turkey.
TURKISH PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, on the situation in Syria.
He also offered Mr Erdogan moral support. "I want to again say that it's our principled position that we are always categorically against any attempts at unconstitutional actions," said Mr Putin. "I want to express the hope that under your leadership the Turkish people will cope with this problem (the coup's aftermath) and that order and constitutional legality will be restored."
Mr Erdogan, who has said the trip represents a "new milestone", told Mr Putin that ties had entered a "very different phase", and thanked the Kremlin leader for his backing after the coup attempt.
The shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by a Turkish F-16 over the Syrian border last year saw a furious Mr Putin slap economic sanctions on Turkey and launch a blistering war of words that seemed to irrevocably damage burgeoning ties.
But in late June, Mr Putin surprisingly accepted a letter expressing regret over the incident from Mr Erdogan and quickly rolled back some restrictions.
In the wake of the failed coup, there are fears in Western capitals that Turkey, a Nato member, could draw even closer to Russia - with Mr Erdogan bluntly making it clear he feels let down by the United States and European Union.
Mr Putin, one of the first foreign leaders to phone Mr Erdogan offering support after the coup attempt, shares none of the scruples of EU leaders about the ensuing crackdown. With Russia mired in economic crisis due to Western sanctions over Ukraine and low oil prices, along with Turkey's flagging outlook, both men want to get business started again.
However, they do not agree on the way forward in Syria. Russia, which is conducting a bombing campaign in support of Mr Erdogan's foe President Bashar al-Assad, transformed the balance of the Syrian civil war last September by intervening militarily, to Turkey's consternation.
Mr Erdogan insists that Mr Assad must go - a position opposed by Mr Putin - but has told Russian media that the Syrian conflict could now become the focus for renewed cooperation between the two sides.
"Russia is a main, key and very important player in establishing peace in Syria," Mr Erdogan said.
"The problem needs to be solved with the help of joint steps between Russia and Turkey."
Meanwhile, as tensions with the EU rise, Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik yesterday threatened to stop implementing an agreement with the bloc to stem the flow of migrants to the continent if the EU does not provide a clear date to grant visa-free travel to Turks.
Denmark's ruling party has said, however, that the EU should end accession negotiations with Turkey due to Mr Erdogan's "undemocratic initiatives" and his support for reintroducing the death penalty.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS