by Daria Litvinova and Suzanne Fraser
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday at the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks that were expected to focus on war-torn Syria.
It was the first personal meeting for Putin in two weeks. On 14 September, the Russian president went into self-isolation after a staff member had contracted the coronavirus. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed Putin’s two-week self-isolation ended on Wednesday.
As the two leaders sat down for talks, Putin said relations between the two countries “develop positively.”
“Negotiations are sometimes difficult, but with a positive end result. Our (government) bodies have learned to find agreements that are beneficial to both sides,” Putin said.
Erdogan echoed that sentiment, saying he believed “there is great benefit in continuing to strengthen our Turkish-Russian ties every day.”
On Syria, Russia is a main ally of the Syrian government while Turkey supports groups that have fought to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. However, Russian and Turkish troops have cooperated in Idlib, the last hold of the rebel forces, and in the search for a political solution in the country.
“Peace (in Syria) depends on the relationship between Turkey and Russia,” the Turkish leader told Putin.
The talks between the two presidents came amid an escalation in airstrikes on positions of Turkish-backed opposition fighters in northern Syria, particularly in Idlib province.
Last year, Turkey and Russia reached an armistice agreement that halted three months of Syrian government fighting in Idlib and also saw rare direct fighting between Syrian and Turkish troops. That Russian-backed attack killed hundreds of civilians and displaced nearly one million people in Idlib province.
Turkey fears escalating violence in northern Syria will lead to a new influx of refugees across its borders. Turkey already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees. For its part, Russia accused Turkey of failing to take measures to drive out radical groups from northern Syria.
Earlier this month, Putin met with Assad in Moscow and criticized the presence of Turkish and US forces in northern Syria, calling his presence a major violation of international law. The Russian leader was referring to hundreds of US troops stationed in eastern Syria working alongside Kurdish-led fighters fighting the militant Islamic State group as well as Turkish forces in northern Syria.
In March 2011, war broke out in Syria. It has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced in the country’s pre-war population of 23 million people, including more than five million refugees outside the war-torn nation.
Russia’s state-run news agency Tass reported that talks between Putin and Erdogan lasted about three hours on Wednesday. The two leaders did not make a statement after the talks, but Erdogan said on social media that he left Sochi after having a “productive” meeting with his Russian counterpart.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.