ANKARA: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday met his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks on Syria and a key weapons deal, hoping to strengthen an increasingly active relationship that has troubled the West.

Despite a regional rivalry that goes back to the Ottoman Empire and the Romanov dynasty, Russia and Turkey have been working closely since a 2016 reconciliation ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian war plane over Syria.

“Russia and Turkey are cooperating very tightly,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said ahead of the one-day working visit by Putin to Ankara.

Erdogan welcomed Putin at the doors of his vast presidential palace in Ankara for the evening talks, shortly after the Russian president landed at the city’s airport.

The two will hold a working dinner before a one-on-one meeting and a late night press conference at 9:30pm, the Turkish presidency said.

Turkey and Russia have been on opposing sides during the more than six years of war in Syria, with Russia the key backer of President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey supporting rebels seeking his ouster.

But while Turkey’s policy is officially unchanged, Ankara has notably cooled its attacks on the Damascus regime since its cooperation with Russia began to heat up.

Both Moscow and Ankara are pushing for the creation of four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, in line with peace talks in Astana, to end the civil war that has raged since 2011.

With Moscow’s ally Assad now having the upper hand in the conflict, Russia will be hoping Turkey will bring the rebels it has supported into the political process.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2017