Moscow (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday hold their first meeting since the two leaders began healing a bitter feud over Ankara’s downing of a Russian warplane.
Here is a timeline of the crisis that slammed the brakes on burgeoning ties between the two strategically important nations and set Erdogan and Putin against each other:
– Russian jet downed –
A Turkish military jet blasts a Russian warplane out of the sky over the Turkey-Syria border on November 24, 2015. One pilot is killed, reportedly shot dead by rebel fighters as he parachutes to earth inside Syria. A Russian soldier dies in a successful rescue operation to rescue the second pilot.
NATO-member Turkey insists the Russian plane — part of Moscow’s bombing campaign to back up Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad — was one of two jets that had strayed into Turkish airspace for some 17 seconds despite repeated warnings.
Moscow is adamant that its aircraft did not cross the Syrian border and a furious Putin labels the incident a “stab in the back” by “the accomplices of terrorists”.
– Russia strikes back –
Moscow fires back by announcing a raft of economic sanctions against Ankara on November 28, including banning a range of Turkish food imports and halting the sale of package holidays and charter flights to the country.
The retaliatory measures target Turkey’s key tourism, agricultural and construction sectors and send growing trade between the two nations plummeting. Talks on the major TurkStream gas pipeline project are also suspended and work on a Russian-built nuclear plant in Turkey thrown into doubt.
– War of words –
Meanwhile the war of words between Putin and Erdogan — two strongmen whose macho leadership styles have helped bring them together — rages on as Moscow demands Ankara apologise.
Russia accuses Erdogan of profiting from the illegal oil trade with Islamic State jihadists, claims the Turkish leader slams as “slander”. Putin snubs an offer from Erdogan to meet during climate talks in Paris after refusing to take his calls, and cancels a summit in December.
– Erdogan writes to Putin –
After seven months of feuding Erdogan sends Putin a letter on June 27 in which he expresses his condolences over the jet downing and calls for a return to friendlier ties.
The Kremlin says the message constitutes an apology and the two leaders two days later hold their first phone conversation since the start of the crisis.
Turkish newspaper Hurriyet has reported that the letter was published after both sides secretly agreed to restore ties and hammered out the wording following mediation by figures including Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and a prominent Turkish businessman.
– Putin starts to lift sanctions –
After talking to Erdogan, Putin — whose country’s own economy is mired in recession due to Western sanctions over Ukraine and low oil prices — immediately announces an end to the package tour ban and orders his ministers to begin lifting the charter flight freeze and normalising trade ties with Ankara.
The move brings relief to Turkey’s hard-hit tourism industry that has seen the number of Russian visitors nosedive dramatically.
– Coup call –
In a sign that ties are warming, Putin is one of the first international leaders to call Erdogan and offer his support after the failed coup against the Turkish president on July 15.
Ankara welcomes the Kremlin leader’s backing as the fallout from the coup attempt sees Erdogan launch a purge of opponents that strains ties with the West.
– Erdogan heads to Russia –
Erdogan jets to Putin’s hometown of Saint Petersburg on August 9, 2016 for the first meeting between the two leaders since the jet downing, aimed at sealing the rapprochement.
In an interview with Russian media before the encounter Erdogan repeatedly calls Putin his “friend” and says he hopes the two nations can begin again with a “clean slate”.
Germany is not concerned by Turkey and Russia’s more amicable relationship, as the two countries’ presidents meet, promising a “new start” to ties between Moscow and Ankara. While relations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his partners in NATO and the EU have worsened in the aftermath of last month’s failed military coup in Turkey, Erdogan’s rhetoric to Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned much friendlier. European leaders have cautiously warned Erdogan not to use the crackdown against coup plotters as a way to weed out political opposition, but Putin has been largely supportive of the government. Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told tabloid Bild that
Saint Petersburg (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday pledged to reinvigorate ties after their first meeting since Ankara shot down a Russian warplane last November.
Erdogan’s visit to Putin’s hometown of Saint Petersburg is also his first foreign trip since the failed coup against him last month that sparked a purge of opponents and cast a shadow over Turkey’s relations with the West.
“We lived through a very complicated moment in the relations between our states and we very much want, and I feel our Turkish friends want, to overcome the difficulties,” Putin told journalists at a joint press conference.
He insisted it would take “painstaking work” and “some time” to return to previous trade levels as Russia rolls back punishing economic sanctions against Ankara, but both sides said they wanted to restart major energy projects hit by the crisis.
Erdogan said he hoped relations would become “more robust” and stressed how important it was that Putin offered his support after the coup.
“We will bring our relations back to the old level and even beyond,” he said.
The shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by a Turkish F-16 on the Syrian border last November saw Putin slap sanctions on Turkey and launch a blistering war of words that dealt serious damage to burgeoning ties.
But in a shock reversal in late June, Putin accepted a letter from Erdogan expressing regret over the incident as an apology.
He quickly rolled back a ban on the sale of package holidays to Turkey and signalled Moscow would end measures against Turkish food imports and construction firms.
Now in the wake of the failed July 15 coup attempt, there are fears in Western capitals that NATO-member Turkey could draw even closer to Moscow — with Erdogan bluntly making it clear he feels let down by the United States and the European Union.
Turkey has repeatedly pressed Washington to extradite Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the failed coup, and on Tuesday said it could suspend bilateral ties over the issue.
Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to phone Erdogan offering support after the coup attempt and shares none of the concerns of EU leaders about the ensuing crackdown.
– Back to business? –
Relations between Turkey and Russia — two powers vying for influence in the strategic Black Sea region and Middle East — have long been complicated.
Yet before the plane crisis, Moscow and Ankara managed to prevent disputes on Syria and Ukraine from harming cooperation on issues like the TurkStream gas pipeline to Europe and a Russian-built nuclear power station in Turkey.
Those projects were put on ice with trade between the two countries plunging 43 percent in January-May this year to $6.1 billion, and Turkey’s tourism industry seeing visitor numbers from Russia fall by 93 percent.
With Turkey’s outlook flagging and Russia mired in economic crisis due to low oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine, both men want to get business started again.
Erdogan said he wanted to see the TurkStream project “done as fast as possible”, while Putin said construction could start “in the nearest future” and that the restoration of business ties would be done “in phases”.
The Turkish leader also insisted the two sides were once again targeting an ambitious trade turnover of $100 billion by 2024.
But Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev told media it could take up to two years to fully restore pre-crisis trade levels.
– Skirting Syria –
A previous uptick in relations between Turkey and Russia was built on a macho friendship between Putin and Erdogan, two combative leaders in their early 60s credited with restoring confidence to their nations in the wake of financial crises but also criticised for clampdowns on human rights.
But after such a bitter dispute — which saw Putin accuse Erdogan of profiting from an illegal oil trade with the Islamic State group — it will take a lot for the pair to repair relations.
The two strongmen conspicuously skirted one major issue that divides them — the war in Syria.
Russia is carrying out a bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad while Turkey is fiercely opposed to the Syrian leader.