Turkey's Erdogan hosts Putin

President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday held talks in Ankara with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin aimed at boosting trade and strengthening relations, despite sharp differences over the crises in Syria and Ukraine.

Erdogan personally welcomed Putin for the one-day state visit at the gates of his controversial new presidential palace in Ankara and the Russian leader is only the second world dignitary to visit the grandiose complex after Pope Francis on Friday.

Talks were expected to focus on energy cooperation — with Ankara seeking not only a reduction in gas prices from Russia, but also greater import volumes ahead of the winter — as well key diplomatic issues.

Putin, heading a delegation of 10 Russian ministers, was also expected to discuss how to realise the aim of tripling bilateral trade to a target of $100 billion in the next years from $32.7 billion in 2013, a goal some analysts see as wildly over-ambitious.

His visit came just over a week after talks between US Vice President Joe Biden and key NATO ally Turkey failed to reach a breakthrough on cooperating over Syria.

– Charismatic strongmen –

The meeting is the first time the pair have met face-to-face since Erdogan moved from the post of prime minister to president in August, the same job change that Putin himself made in 2012.

Putin, whose motorcade was accompanied along closed-off streets by soldiers on horseback, was welcomed with full state honours at the palace which has just become operational after being built at a cost of $615 million.

Commentators often note the similarities between Erdogan, 60, and Putin, 62, both charismatic strongmen accused abroad of authoritarianism, while retaining significant support at home.

Russia and Turkey appear so far to have successfully shielded their close relations from potentially damaging disputes over the crises in Syria and Ukraine.

Ankara — a strong supporter of the territorial integrity of states due to its own battle with Kurdish separatists — opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine this year.

It is also worried about the situation on the Black Sea peninsula of the Turkic Crimean Tatar minority who, according to activists, are the victims of persecution by the new pro-Kremlin authorities.

Meanwhile, the two countries are at odds over the Syria conflict, with Putin the last remaining major ally of President Bashar al-Assad, while Erdogan is pressing for the Syrian leader to be ousted without delay.