Putin praises 'useful' Erdogan talks

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan held their first face to face talks in 18 months (AFP/Vladimir SMIRNOV)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan lauded three-hour talks as "useful" and "productive" as they met to discuss the Syrian conflict.

It was their first face-to-face talks in 18 months.

The Russian leader hosted Erdogan at his Black Sea residence in the resort of Sochi after two weeks in self-isolation following a coronavirus outbreak among aides.

The two men, who did not address reporters after the talks, had been expected to discuss northwestern Syria where regime troops and Moscow have ratcheted up airstrikes in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar had said Ankara hoped the talks would result in a return to "a peaceful situation according to our agreement."

In a warm post-negotiation exchange, that included a discussion of their coronavirus antibody levels, Putin thanked Erdogan, calling the visit "useful and informative."

"We will be in touch," he added.

Writing on Twitter, Erdogan called the talks "productive".

Russia and Turkey have historically had complex relations, balancing regional rivalries with finding common ground on economic and strategic interests.

In recent years, the two powers have clashed in particular in Syria, where Moscow and Ankara support opposing camps in the civil war.

In Syria, they last year sponsored a ceasefire deal in the northwestern Idlib region, home to the last major jihadist and rebel stronghold in northwest Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 11 fighters from a pro-Turkish rebel group had been killed Sunday in Russian air raids outside the north Syria town of Afrin.

The war monitor said such Russian raids are rare in this region of Syria, which has been controlled by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies for three years.

- 'Compromises' -

Earlier in the day Erdogan told Putin he believes there are great benefits in "Turkey and Russia keeping stronger relations each passing day".

"The steps we have taken with Russia related to Syria are of utmost importance," Erdogan said. "The peace there depends on Turkey-Russia relations."

The two countries also found themselves on different sides in last year's conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"Negotiations are sometimes difficult -- but with a final positive result," Putin told Erdogan.

He added that they "have learned to find compromises favourable to both parties".

The two countries have grown closer in recent years thanks to tensions between Moscow and the West and Ankara's increasingly delicate relations with its NATO allies.

In 2019, Turkey agreed a multi-billion-dollar purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defence system that led to US sanctions last year.

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