Relations have soured since Turkey's air force shot down a Russian jet in 2015
Russian-Turkish cooperation has borne diplomatic fruit in Syria
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow on Friday as the two top leaders work to coordinate their military and diplomatic moves in the 6-year-old Syrian conflict and to deepen their economic ties.
Relations between the countries had soured since Turkey’s air force shot down a Russian jet at the Syrian-Turkish border in 2015. The incident kicked off a tumultuous year of relations between the two nations.
In recent months, the two leaders have shown unity as they’ve emerged as significant powers in the Syrian conflict. Friday’s meeting, under the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council format, was the first of its kind since 2014, Putin said.
“We are very happy our inter-state relations are restoring rather quickly,” Putin said during the meeting with Erdogan, according to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.
Putin cited close working relations between Turkish and Russian military and intelligence authorities.
“We are working actively on settlement of most acute crises in the world, first of all in Syria,” the Russian leader said. “I am pleased to say, nobody has expected, but at the level of military authorities, intelligence services, we have a very trustful, very effective dialogue.”
Trade and economic relations are also developing, Putin said.
Defense industry and energy cooperation are main elements of cooperation, Erdogan said, citing the development of a gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant.
“There was a gap in the work of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council,” Erdogan said. “As you know, we have recently met at the World Energy Forum. The forum was highly effective, in particular in the context of our contacts. Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is of special significance.”
Erdogan said he is “sure that this meeting will contribute to the further development of our relations.”
Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria has borne diplomatic fruit.
In December, the nations brokered the most effective ceasefire agreement so far in the six-year conflict. The United States and the United Nations over the years have failed to forge a similar deal.
And even though they back opposing sides of the war – Russia supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey does not – the countries are now overseeing talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups.
Friday’s meeting follows a summit this week between the top military brass from Russia, Turkey and the United States. Turkey said the meeting was aimed at coordinating efforts against the ISIS militant group and avoiding “unwanted incidents.”
Relations between Turkey and Russia began to thaw in July, when Putin showed his support for Erdogan during an attempted military coup.
“I know that I was one of the first people who called on the phone and expressed my support,” Putin said.
Added Erdogan: “It was positive for us to have the meeting so quickly,” after what he described as “unfortunate events.”
Turkish-Russian relations proved strong through what could have been another bilateral disaster, when a gunman shot Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in an Ankara art gallery in December.
Russia flexes muscles in Middle East
As the Trump administration works out its Middle East policy, Russia has come to have unprecedented leverage in the region. And Putin’s interests hardly coincide with those of Erdogan’s when it comes to Syria.
Putin’s priorities include consolidating Russia’s leading role in Syria, preserving a delicate entente with Turkey in leading the Syrian “peace process,” and continuing to try to coax it away from Europe and NATO as part of a broader strategy of weakening the Western alliance.
Erdogan’s focus is on promoting Turkey’s interests in Syria, if possible at the expense of the Kurds, and on securing a role in the offensive against Raqqa, the ISIS stronghold in Syria. He also wants to put the United States on notice that there are alternatives to American leadership in the region.
“They have totally different agendas, and yet despite this, their relations have improved remarkably in the past months alone,” said James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia Program at London’s Chatham House.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the last time Erdogan and Putin met. The meeting on Friday was the first since 2014 under the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council format, Putin said. The pair also met in 2016.
CNN’s Tim Lister, Radina Gigova and Joe Sterling contributed to this report