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Turkish president makes first foreign visit after coup attempt to Russia

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Turkish president makes first foreign visit after coup attempt to Russia

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is making Russia the destination for his first trip abroad since last month’s failed coup by Turkey’s military.

Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin will focus their talks on the Syria conflict, trade, energy and the resumption of Russian charter flights to Turkey.

“This will be a historic visit, a new beginning. At the talks with my friend Vladimir, I believe a new page in bilateral relations will be opened. Our countries have a lot to do together,” the Russian news agency TASS quoted Erdogan as saying.

The St Petersburg meeting marks a swift reversal in relations.

Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian warplane near its border with Syria last November led Moscow to impose economic sanctions, particularly on food imports and tourism.

Subsequently the number of Russian tourists visiting the country fell by 87 percent in the first half of 2016.

With Turkey’s economy suffering, Erdogan apologised in June for the Russian plane’s downing.

And then after July’s coup attempt, Moscow was supportive.

Emre Ersen, an expert on Russian-Turkish relations at Marmara University’s Department of Political Science and International Relations, said: “Putin was one of the first leaders to call Erdogan and he declared unconditional support for the Turkish government, the democratically elected government of Turkey, against the coup [attempt]”.

Turkey’s European and US allies condemned the coup, but also expressed concern at Erdogan’s consequent sweeping crackdown on the military, government employees and the media.

Syrian stalemate, migrant muddle

The war in Syria is one of the most difficult topics for the two presidents.

They back opposite sides but before the meeting Erdogan said: “Without Russia’s participation it’s impossible to find a solution to the Syrian problem. Only in partnership with Russia will we be able to settle the crisis in Syria.”

Amid the cooling of ties with the West and the concerns over the authoritarian drift of Erodgan’s presidency, Brussels is trying to salvage an unraveling agreement over migrants.

Ankara agreed in March to stop people crossing into Greece in exchange for financial aid being revived, the promise of visa-free travel for its citizens to much of Europe and accelerated EU membership talks.

But the post-coup crackdown has further delayed the visa-free travel threatening the entire deal.

Demonstrating to both Brussels and Moscow his strong popular support, Erdogan held a huge rally in Istanbul on Sunday and there brought up another issue which disturbs the EU, the proposed reintroduction of the death penalty.

He said: “Sovereignty stays unconditionally with the nation. If the people want it, (the death penalty), in my opinion, the political parties should follow the will of the people”.

Germany has said the reinstatement of the death penalty would end Turkey’s bid to join the EU, which would likely turn the country more to the East.

The German Foreign Ministry on Monday welcomed moves by the two countries to end tensions and said better communication was important given their respective roles in ending the civil war in Syria.

“We do not believe that the rapprochement between Turkey and Russia will have consequences for the security partnership within NATO,” spokeswoman Sawsan Chebli told a regular government news conference. “Turkey is and remains an important partner within NATO.”

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