ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — On his first foreign visit after Turkey’s failed coup, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for inviting him for talks Tuesday aimed at repairing ties shattered by Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane along the Syrian border last year.
The downing of the Russian jet in November, which Putin described as a “treacherous stab in the back,” came amid boiling tensions over Syria, where Moscow and Ankara back opposing sides in the war. Russia promptly cut ties with Turkey over the incident, banned Turkish vegetables, restricted Russian tourists’ access to Turkey and blocked some Turkish companies from working on the Russian market.
Erdogan in June sent a letter to Putin with a long-anticipated apology for Turkey’s downing of the jet, setting the scene for the meeting Tuesday at Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg.
“Despite the very difficult domestic situation your visit means that all of us want the dialogue to be resumed and ties to be restored in the interests of the people of Turkey and Russia,” Putin said.
Putin is interested in mending the rift with Turkey in the hopes of reviving key economic projects, including a much-touted pipeline to carry natural gas to Turkey, and expanding Russia’s clout in Syria.
Erdogan, in his opening remarks, thanked Putin twice for inviting him to Russia. “I believe that our solidarity will help toward the resolution of regional problems,” he said.
Erdogan also mentioned that Putin was one of the first world leaders to call him after the attempted coup on July 15 to express his support, which Erdogan said “gladdened me, my colleagues and our people.”
Putin earlier in the meeting said it is Russia’s “first stance” to oppose any “actions that counter the constitution.”
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.
Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.