Experts and officials from Turkey and Russia have highlighted developing bilateral relations across a multidimensional spectrum by drawing attention to political and economic cooperation and collaboration in Syria.
Speaking at an event organized in Ankara yesterday on Turkish-Russian relations, Russian Ambassador to Ankara Alexei Erkhov said bilateral ties have reached a top level, citing the six meetings between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin so far this year.
He added that the two countries' trade volume has increased nearly 40 percent every year and that the number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey is expected to hit 5.5 million this year.
Turkey welcomes millions of Russian tourists each year; yet, Ankara argues that visa liberalization would significantly boost the number of Turkish tourists in Russia.
Some 4.7 million Russian tourists visited Turkey in 2017, marking a significant comeback from 866,000 in 2016 at the height of the diplomatic spat. The highest number in Turkish tourists in Russia was achieved in 2013, when the number of tourists increased from 197,000 in 2010 to 385,000 in 2013. This number was 180,000 in 2017, marking a sharp drop after the reintroduction of visas for Turks.
Stressing that the two countries have strategic projects such as the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, Erkhov said interaction between Turkey and Russia on Syria is an indication of the serious progress in bilateral ties.
While Ankara and Moscow initiated the Idlib agreement to prevent a new conflict between the Bashar Assad regime and Syrian opposition in the northwestern part of the country, they also have focused on economic projects such as Akkuyu. The construction of the plant was launched on April 3 through a groundbreaking ceremony attended by Erdoğan and Putin via a video conference, and the plant's date for the first reactor to be operational has been set for 2023.
Speaking on developing relations, Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın, who was also a speaker at the event, said Ankara's positive relations with Russia do not preclude it from having good ties with the European Union and the United States.
Kalın also said that despite Turkey carrying out talks with its Western allies, none of them was eager to sell a defense systems to it, which prompted Ankara to order Russian S-400s.
"The Russian side made the best offer [for a defense system], and the first batch of S-400s will be delivered by the end of next year. Also, joint production will start afterwards, which is crucial for us," Kalın said. In December 2017, Ankara agreed to buy two Russian-made S-400s in a deal worth over $2 billion. Turkish officials have repeatedly said the purchase of the S-400 systems was made to fulfill the country's security needs. Ankara has been disappointed with its NATO allies for their lack of cooperation in meeting its defense needs.
Salih Yılmaz, chairman of the Russian Research Institute at Yıldırım Beyazıt University, said at the event that both countries need to grasp the necessity of developing bilateral ties and should work together to solve political disputes, including Nagorno-Karabakh, Crimea and Cyprus. Following Turkey's shooting down of a Russian military jet over the Turkey-Syria border in November 2015, Russia imposed a range of unilateral sanctions on Turkey, including a ban on food imports and an end to visa-free travel. After a quick recovery in bilateral relations, the two countries rapidly increased military, political and economic cooperation.