By Burcu Arik
Turkish and Russian leaders agreed Wednesday that Turkey-Russia relations had been fully restored since November 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian military jet over airspace violation.
The announcement came during a joint news conference between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who met in Russia's coastal town of Sochi to discuss bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues.
Putin said that Russia's relations with Turkey had fully recovered and the trade volume had stopped falling.
"Our relations have been tested in the recent past. I can say that Russia-Turkey normalization period is now complete. We are getting back to a normal cooperative partnership," the Russian president said.
Erdogan said Turkey and Russia were "beyond normalization" and entering "a new phase," adding both countries were working hard to revive the relations.
Turkish president said the relations between the two countries had gained a special status and the two could change the destiny of the whole region together.
"We have a very serious responsibility on our shoulders. And I am sure that the steps we take together will change the destiny of the whole region," Erdogan said.
Turkey-Russia relations, which had remained soured until the jet downing crisis, seemed largely resolved last June through a letter and subsequent telephone calls between the countries’ leaders.
De-escalation zone in Syria
Syrian civil war was also high on the agenda of the two leaders who discussed the issue of establishing de-escalation zones in the war-stricken country.
Putin said he was on the same page with Erdogan regarding this matter, adding that he also discussed the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump over the phone on Tuesday, and that the U.S. administration appeared to back the idea.
Moscow has already held consultations with Damascus and Tehran, Putin said. "We believe we need to create mechanisms that would guarantee an end to the bloodshed, and create conditions for starting a political dialogue."
The president underlined the importance of ensuring a ceasefire in order to set this political process in motion.
"Russia, Turkey and Iran are always thinking of how to secure a ceasefire. One way to do it is to create safe zones, or de-escalation zones," Putin said.
Erdogan said de-escalation zones were different from safe zones.
"The safe zone is an area of about 4,000 to 5,000 square kilometers (2,385-3,100 square miles) between the towns of Jarabulus and Al-Rai towards the south. But now we have de-escalation zones," he said.
Erdogan said such a zone was declared in Syria's Idlib, and he hoped that it would be maintained.
He added the issue of de-escalation zones would be one of the top topics of the ongoing Astana peace talks in the Kazakh capital.
The Astana talks, which first convened in January, are running alongside UN-backed discussions being held in Geneva.
The talks, focusing on the cease-fire that came into effect on Dec. 30, have been brokered by Turkey -- which backs the Syrian opposition -- and Russia and Iran, who support the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Erdogan also said he and Putin agreed that those responsible for the deadly April 4 chemical attack in the opposition-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province had to be punished.
"No one can get away with such a brutal attack. They should not," he said, adding any attack which violated cease-fire not only undermined the work of the guarantor countries, but also made the situation in the region worse.
"We will continue to work in coordination with Russia in all these matters," Erdogan said.
Ban on Turkish goods
Erdogan said Moscow and Ankara agreed on all trade issues including food and textiles except tomatoes.
"Of course, we want Turkish tomatoes on the Russian market. We suggest it because they are cheap and delicious," Erdogan said, adding there would be a transition process, and perhaps interim solutions could be found in the meantime.
After the Nov. 24, 2015 jet crisis, Moscow took several measures against Turkey, including ban on imports of Turkish agricultural products.
Since last summer, Russia has relaxed the measures imposed on Turkey and lifted the ban on some products, particularly citrus fruits.
Following the statements from Erdogan and Putin, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said that Moscow and Ankara had resolved all trade issues except tomato imports from Turkey, and visa-free travel for Turks.
“A decision has been made to lift all restrictions - except those I mentioned - simultaneously and reciprocally,” Dvorkovich told reporters following the meeting in Sochi.
"I will repeat what the president [Putin] said - we agreed that all individual limitations of the parties are removed. There are nuances in terms of timing, because something can be solved in one day, something in a week.
"However, in general, all restrictions, except for the general visa regime and special agreements on tomatoes that are yet to be achieved, are lifted. The agreements include grain," Russia's TASS news agency quoted Dvorkovich as saying.
"All restrictions are being removed simultaneously, and we hope that this will take a few days," Dvorkovich said.