Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's Vladimir Putin agreed in a phone call on June 29 to start the process of repairing the tattered relations between their countries, ending a seven-month freeze caused by the downing of a Russian bomber last November by Ankara's airforce.
Putin told Erdogan that he had given instructions to his government to start talks with Turkey on the resumption of trade and economic cooperation, TASS reported. As a first step Moscow has lifted tourism restrictions.
"As for our bilateral relations, I would like to begin with tourism issues, although this is said against the background of intensified terrorist activity. Nevertheless, we lift the administrative restrictions in this sphere," Putin said, opening a meeting with the Russian government members.
Russia is also ready to resume grain exports to Turkey, Minister of Agriculture Alexander Tkachev said on June 29.
It was the leaders' first direct contact since what Putin described at the time as a “stab in the back” by Turkey, before he ordered a costly economic embargo of Turkish food in retaliation. In an effort to mend ties with Russia, Erdogan earlier this week sent a letter to Putin expressing regret over the incident and the death of a pilot by the Syrian border. The phone conversation was arranged shorty after Erdogan's letter was received.
Turkish presidential sources described the call as “very productive and positive”, with Erdogan and Putin also agreeing to meet in person. A statement released by Erdogan's office did not say anything about the timing of the planned meeting. As Putin extended his condolences to the Turkish people over the terrorist attack on the Istanbul airport on June 28, the leaders also stressed the importance of reviving cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the statement added.
Officials in Moscow also hailed the call as marking a fresh start, with corresponding instructions passed down to the government. “The Russian leader said he had instructed the government to enter into negotiations with the relevant Turkish authorities to restore mutually advantageous bilateral cooperation in the trade and economic and other spheres,” the Kremlin press office said in a statement.
“After the Turkish president's letter to us we have decided to begin the process of normalisation of relations with our Turkish partners,” Putin was quoted as saying as he opened a government meeting in Moscow. “At the beginning of the conversation [with Erdogan] I, certainly, expressed condolences to the country’s president, to the whole Turkish nation over the terrorist attack that has happened in Istanbul.”
In a concurrent diplomatic flurry, Ankara also this week signed a deal with Israel to normalise relations that went sour six years ago, when Israeli commandoes raided a Turkish boat bound for Gaza, killing ten Turkish activists.
Ankara hopes than ending the feuds with Russia and Israel could provide much-needed boost to Turkey's slowing economy and save the country’s struggling tourism industry.
But question remains as to how fast Ankara and Moscow could repair severely damaged ties. One hotly contested issue between Turkey and Russia is Syria where the two countries defend their conflicting interests. Russia is one of the closest allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey supports opposition groups there.
“We urge governments, parliaments, media and civil society organizations around the world, especially in Western countries, to take a firm stand against terrorism,” Erdogan said in a statement after the terrorist attack in Istanbul. Local media reported the death toll in the attack has risen to 41, including 10 foreign citizens. Some 239 people were wounded in the attack.
It is difficult to see even after the Istanbul attack how Turkey and Russia could overcome their deep differences in Syria and find a common ground. The success of the Kurdish forces, which Russia also supports, in Northern Syria against the Jihadist group causes concerns in Ankara which fears that Syrian Kurds’ territorial gains there may embolden its Kurdish population.