Russian and Turkish presidents renew ties during meeting near St. Petersburg | News | DW | 09.08.2016
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Russian and Turkish presidents renew ties during meeting near St. Petersburg

Russia has agreed to lift sanctions imposed on Turkey after it downed a Russian fighter jet last November. The two also agreed to kick-start huge energy projects, including a gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant.

The presidents of Russia and Turkey took a major step towards reinvigorating ties that were badly damaged last November after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet it said had strayed into Turkish territory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a Czarist-era palace outside of St. Petersburg, where the two men agreed to jump start bilateral trade in an effort to boost their economies, both of which are struggling.

Putin said economic sanctions, which Russia imposed on Turkey after the downed fighter jet, would gradually be lifted. But he called the shoot-down a "treacherous stab in the back."

"Do we want a full-spectrum restoration of relations? Yes and we will achieve that," Putin told a joint news conference after an initial round of talks. "Life changes quickly."

Indeed, the two sides weren't even on speaking terms until June, when Erdogan picked up the phone and apologized for the downed jet and the pilot who lost his life.

Putin responded quickly, ordering his government to begin rebuilding relations.

If the Russian president seemed eager to rejuvenate bilateral relations, Erdogan appeared more so, repeatedly calling Putin his "dear friend."

Both countries' economies are struggling. The Russian economy is laboring under depressed oil prices. The black gold had been a driving force behind Russia's economic growth going back to the last decade.

Hard hit by sanctions

Moscow has also been hit hard by economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. The West slapped sanctions on Russia after the Kremlin unilaterally annexed the Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, and fostered a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.

The Turkish economy has been hard hit by its own internal conflicts with Kurdish separatists and Muslim extremists. In addition, Russian sanctions, after the down jet, all but ended Russian tourism to Turkey.

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Russian warplane shot down by Turkish jet

Opening the door to Russian tourists and reigniting two major energy projects are important for both countries. Key among the plans is a gas pipeline that would connect the two countries, and a nuclear power plant that Russia is to build in Turkey. Both projects are priced at $20 billion (18 billion euro).

"God willing, with these steps the Moscow-Ankara axis will again be a line of trust and friendship," Erdogan said

In addition to boosting bilateral trade the meeting is filled with geopolitical intrigue.

Turkey is a NATO member and says it aspires to join the European Union. But its human rights record and commitment to the rule-of-law have long been questioned.

In the aftermath of last month's coup attempt against Erdogan those concerns have only grown in the West.

At least 18,000 people have been detained or arrested and nearly 70,000 others have been purged from the civil service, judiciary, education, health care and the military.

Losing Turkey?

On Wednesday, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state-run Anadolu agency that Turkey and Russia share views on the need for a ceasefire in Syria, the provision of humanitarian aid and a political solution to end the crisis.

A Turkish delegation including foreign ministry, military and defence officials is traveling to Russia for follow-up talks on Wednesday, Cavusoglu added.

Cavusoglu said Turkey's rapprochement with Russia was "not meant as a message to the West," adding that support for EU membership in Turkey had fallen because of the bloc's sympathetic attitude towards those who carried out the July 15 coup attempt.

"The EU is making serious mistakes in its response to Turkey's failed coup," he said, "and if the West 'loses' Turkey it will be because of its own mistakes, not Ankara's good ties with Russia, China or the Islamic world."

bik/bw/jbh (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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