Summit comes as some in west fear Nato member Turkey could be drawn into Moscow’s orbit.
The Russian and Turkish presidents on Tuesday vowed to restore their friendship, ending an eight month stand-off over the Syrian conflict as economic pressures and the failed coup in Turkey drive the two countries closer together.
Vladimir Putin greeted Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a former imperial residence outside St Petersburg overlooking the Gulf of Finland, their first meeting since Turkish forces shot down a Russian military aircraft on the Syrian border in November last year.
The “axis of friendship” between Moscow and Ankara had been resurrected, Mr Erdogan said following more than four hours of talks. Relations between the two countries would be closer than before their quarrel over Syria — which brought them to the brink of military conflict — he added.
The two nations’ ties “are a lot more robust than ever, and they will help us resist any potential crises”, Mr Erdogan said, addressing Mr Putin as “my dear friend” three times in as many minutes.
The Turkish leader’s choice of Russia for his first foreign trip following the failed coup against him last month gave the summit broader geopolitical significance, with some in the west fearing the Nato member could be drawn into the Kremlin’s orbit despite the Syria conflict, where they support opposite sides.
Mr Erdogan was incensed by what he saw as a lack of solidarity from his western allies following the attempted putsch and criticism of the ensuing crackdown. In contrast, he welcomed the fact that the Kremlin gave him its unequivocal backing.
“The western world must show solidarity with Turkey, which has adopted its democratic values,” Mr Erdogan told France’s Le Monde newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. “Unfortunately western leaders have preferred to leave Turkish people to themselves.”
“Instead of showing empathy, western leaders had the opposite reaction,” he added. “This makes us sad and it is unacceptable.”
Despite the rapprochement, the Russian leader was more reserved, barely breaking a smile when the two faced reporters.
“There have been dramatic periods in our relations, but inevitably our mutual respect gained the upper hand,” Mr Putin said. “We want to and we will restore relations to the full dimension. We feel the sincerity of our Turkish friends and want to do this”
Mr Putin reacted furiously when the Turkish military shot down the Russian fighter in November after it allegedly crossed into Turkey’s airspace while patrolling northern Syria. The Kremlin immediately imposed a series of trade embargoes on Turkey covering tourism, construction and food exports to Russia. It also denounced Mr Erdogan as an autocrat and accused his family of profiting from illegal oil trade with Isis militants in Syria.
But on Tuesday, Mr Putin said full restoration of economic and trade ties was “only a question of time”. Moscow and Ankara would seek to develop economic relations under a three-year programme running until 2019, he added. However, he did not give concrete deadlines for the revival of a visa-free travel regime and Russian charter flights to Turkey.
The rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara began in June, before the coup attempt, when the Kremlin accepted Mr Erdogan’s apology for the downing of the Russian aircraft. Within days, officials from both countries had begun talks to roll back the Russian sanctions.
In St Petersburg, the atmosphere had improved enough for the summit lunch table to be decked out with plates featuring a photo of the two leaders shaking hands. Later in the afternoon the two leader were joined by diplomatic and military chiefs to discuss the war in Syria.
“It’s well known that we are far from agreeing on the issue of Syria, but we have a common goal: that this crisis needs to be resolved,” Mr Putin said.
By Kathrin Hille