The summit in St. Petersburg is aimed at ending a period of high tension and trade sanctions after Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border last November — an act described by Putin as a “stab in the back.”
The issue has soured relations, with members of the government implying the U.S. could have been behind the coup — a claim denied by leading American officials.
Turkey has also blasted its European allies for what it sees as a lack of support for a democratically elected government which survived a violent attempt to overthrow it, and Turkish officials have publicly traded barbs with Germany, Austria and Italy as well as the European Union.
In contrast, the Kremlin was quick to voice support for Erdogan, reflecting Putin’s intention to mend bilateral ties.
Ankara has also hinted its deal with the European Union to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe could break down unless the EU quickly implements part of the deal allowing visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.
In an interview with Russian news agency TASS published Tuesday, Erdogan said he wanted to reset relations with Russia from a clean slate and referred to Putin as “my friend.”
“I am certain that … a new page in Russian-Turkish relations will be opened,” he said. Asked about the shooting down of the Russian fighter jet, he said the incident was “a great misfortune to us and it deeply upset us” and promised to hold the Turkish pilots involved accountable. “The culprits in what happened … have been detained and brought to justice already,” he said.
However, analysts see the thaw is a matter of mutual convenience between two countries whose relations with the West have soured.
#StPetersburg: Vladimir Putin met with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan https://t.co/pgIamedt5z pic.twitter.com/BdQUCrzHjT
— President of Russia (@KremlinRussia_E) August 9, 2016
“Turkey-Russia relations have entered a positive phase of great targets” https://t.co/mingjLCGSv pic.twitter.com/VtoihB61PR
— Turkish Presidency (@trpresidency) August 9, 2016
Mutual trade and tourism has suffered. Russia’s trade sanctions and travel restrictions imposed on Turkey after the fighter jet incident saw an 87 percent drop in the number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey in the first half of 2016.
“This is an alliance of convenience, not a strategic relationship. It is more of a transactional relationship driven by converging interests and challenging circumstances,” said Fadi Hakura, associate fellow at the Chatham House international affairs think tank in London. “Russia cannot replace the United States and NATO and European Union or European partners …. in relation to Turkey’s strategic interests.”
He noted three-quarters of Turkey’s direct foreign investment comes from Europe and its military is firmly rooted in NATO, whereas it has a limited economic and trade relationship with Russia focused primarily on natural gas and agriculture, as well as construction and low-tech manufacturing.
Turkey restored access to pro-Kremlin Russian news website Sputnik in an apparent goodwill gesture a day before Erdogan’s visit. Turkey had barred access to the website in April.
Erdogan, Putin talks expected to boost trade relations https://t.co/49Zqg9OOEq pic.twitter.com/uEpDutd8tK
— ANADOLU AGENCY (ENG) (@anadoluagency) August 9, 2016
Germany denied Monday it was concerned by the thaw in relations between Turkey and Russia.
“We do not believe that the rapprochement between Turkey and Russia will have consequences for the security partnership within NATO,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Sawsan Chebli told a regular government news conference. “Turkey is and remains an important partner within NATO.”
However, Germany also said Turkey’s plans to reinstate the death penalty would end its bid to join the EU.
“It’s clear that there is no place in the European Union for a country that has the death penalty,” German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters.