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Putin greeted by Erdogan on first foreign visit since re-election

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Russian President Vladimir Putin was greeted today in Turkey by his counterpart Erdogan on his first foreign visit since re-election on March 18.

President Erdogan shakes hands with Putin as Russia begins work on Turkey's first nuclear power station and the leaders vow to deepen ties in a further shift away from Europe
Putin visited Turkey on Tuesday to break ground on the Akkuyu power station
He received a warm welcome from President Erdogan in the capital Ankara
Pair agreed to strengthen ties as Turkey continues to shift away from Europe
Putin will also meet with Iran's President Rouhani on Wednesday to discuss Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Russia's President Putin on Tuesday as construction began on the country's first nuclear power plant.

The pair shook hands as they met in Ankara and then spoke to workers at the $20billion Akkuyu power station, which is being built by Russia, via video link.

The two-day trip to Turkey is Putin's first visit to a foreign country since he was reelected last month, and will also include talks with Iran's Hassan Rouhani on Syria.

Turkey, which is a member of NATO and once courted membership of the European Union, has pivoted towards Russia in recent years.

Erdogan and Putin met eight times last year and regularly speak on the phone. On Tuesday both leaders vowed to deepen their ties on strategic and security issues.

Of particular concern to Turkey is the war in Syria and the presence along its border of armed Kurdish groups, which were backed by the US in the fight against ISIS.

Turkey was furious at US support for such groups and has since launched an all-out offensive against them, starting in Afrin province.

The contract to build the Akkuyu plant was awarded to Russian State Nuclear Energy Agency Rosatom back in 2010, and it is due to be completed in 2023.

That year will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of modern Turkey, when Erdogan says the country will be among the world's top 10 economies.

Last month, sources said Akkuyu was likely to miss its 2023 target start-up date, but Rosatom, which is looking for local partners to take a 49 per cent stake in the project, said it is committed to the timetable.

The Interfax news agency later cited the head of Rosatom saying that the sale of the 49 per cent stake was likely to be postponed from this year until 2019.

'In the name of God!' Erdogan said standing next to Putin at the presidential palace in Ankara before fireworks launched to mark the event.

'This scale of the project is difficult to exaggerate,' Putin said at the ceremony. 'This marks a new stage in the development of Turkey's economy.'

Erdogan said: 'The power plant will contribute to our energy security and also play an important role in the fight against climate change.'

Turkey's Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, Erdogan's son-in-law, praised the Akkuyu project saying: 'We are standing at a crucial juncture in realising the 63-year dream.'

Turkey and Russia have forged burgeoning ties in recent months on a number of, despite past differences.

'We are also in close cooperation with Russia to end as soon as possible the terror threat and clashes in Syria,' Erdogan said.

Their meeting comes as ties between Russia and the West are nosediving to post-Cold War lows after the March poisoning of Russian ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK.

While EU powers have rushed to join Britain in condemning Russia and expelling diplomats over the attack on Skripal, Turkey has been much more circumspect.

Erdogan has said that Ankara will not act against Moscow 'based on an allegation'.

In a move that has troubled Turkey's NATO allies, Ankara has also agreed to buy S-400 air defence missile systems from Russia.

But Ankara-Moscow relations were also tested by a severe crisis from November 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian war plane over Syria, a confrontation both sides are trying to put behind each other.

Despite being on different sides of the Syrian civil war, key regime backers Russia and Iran have joined with rebel-supporting Turkey to boost peace and also influence when the conflict ends.

Russia and Turkey are also building the TurkStream gas pipeline under the Black Sea that will allow Moscow to pump gas to Europe avoiding Ukraine and increase Turkey's importance as a transit hub.

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