Erdogan and Putin sit together to end Turkey-Russia rift

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Konstantin palace outside St.Petersburg, Russia, on Aug. 9, 2016. President Erdogan travels to Russia to meet with President Putin for the first time since apologizing in late June for the downing of a Russian fighter jet along the Syrian border in November last year.

Russia and Turkey have taken a big step towards normalising relations as the countries’ leaders met in St Petersburg.

Ties were damaged after a Turkish F-16 jet downed a Russian warplane over the Syrian border in November, which led to Moscow slapping sanctions on Ankara.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has now had discussions with his counterpart Vladimir Putin in their first meeting in nine months.

It was Mr Erdogan’s first foreign trip since July’s failed coup against him that triggered mass purges and frayed relations with the West.

Mr Putin, who has strained ties with the West himself, said: “Your visit today, which you made despite the really complex domestic political situation in Turkey, shows we all want to restart our dialogue and restore our relations.”

He also said Russia will phase out sanctions against Turkey step-by-step but the priority was to bring ties to their pre-crisis level, and he said they have a common goal of resolving the Syria crisis.

Mr Erdogan said the talks were “comprehensive and beneficial” and the two nations were determined to normalise ties. He said he believed relations had strengthened and become more resistant to crisis.

Calling the Russian leader his “dear friend”, President 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.

Following the coup, 16,000 people have been formally arrested awaiting trial, while a further 6,000 detainees are still being processed and more than 7,000 remain under investigation, according to Turksih authorities.

Turkey has accused Europe and the US of showing a lack of solidarity and being more concerned over the post-coup crackdown than the attempted putsch itself.

At the time of the jet downing, Mr Putin branded it a “stab in the back” committed by “accomplices of terrorists”.

In the first half of 2016, the number of Russian tourists visiting the country plummeted by 87%.

However, there has been a thaw in relations in recent months, with Mr Putin accepting a personal expression of regret by Mr Erdogan over the incident as an apology.

The Kremlin rolled back a ban on the sale of package holidays to Turkey and indicated it would end measures against Turkish food imports and construction firms.

The failed July coup also appeared to draw the two countries closer together.

Mr Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to phone the Turkish leader to offer support after the overthrow bid and has not joined the criticism expressed by Western powers of the ensuing clampdown.

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