Vladimir Putin Woos Turkey's Erdogan With Ice Cream As Strongmen Discuss Russian Stealth Jet Purchase to Replace U.S. F-35

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been enthusiastically showing off their close relationship amid worsening relations between Ankara and Washington.

The Kremlin is looking to step in and fill Turkey's fighter jet gap after it was kicked out of the American F-35 fighter jet program, following a dispute over the country's purchase of a Russian anti-aircraft system.

Putin welcomed Erdogan to the MAKS-2019 air show near Moscow earlier this week to show off Russia's latest fighter technology. With Putin keen to display Russian prowess and Erdogan to show independence from the U.S., the event was well covered by local media.

As such, the cameras captured Putin buying Erdogan some ice cream, in what appeared to be a stage-managed demonstration of the two leaders' apparent relatability.

As the two leaders waited for their ice cream, Erdogan asked Putin if he would buy both. "Yes, of course. You're my guest, aren't you," Putin replied genially. The president handed over a bill and instructed the server to hand the change to the minister for aviation development. Erdogan then tucked into his treat before nodding to the server, seemingly approving of the frozen snack.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin take an ice cream break after talks just outside Moscow today.

The two are discussing the situation in northern Syria, while Putin showed the Turkish leader Russia's latest military technology. pic.twitter.com/tm9D99TbuW

— Rudaw English (@RudawEnglish) August 27, 2019

Eagle-eyed internet users noted that Putin had bought ice cream from the same server at previous MAKS events. A 2017 video published by the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid caught the woman handing over ice cream to the president, The Moscow Times reported.

Russian media has previously noted a trend of familiar faces at official events, the newspaper added, whether on fishing tips or at Christmas church services.

But Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed suggestions that the woman was specially chosen to serve the two leaders. "I don't even know if this is the same saleswoman," he told reported on Wednesday. "This is not a question for us, as they say."

Erdogan used his visit to inspect Russia's fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jet. The jet is Moscow's answer to the U.S. F-22 and F-35 fifth-generation aircraft and went into production earlier this year. The project has been beset by delays and ballooning costs, which prompted development partner India dropping out of the program.

Turkey is looking for a replacement fighter, having been booted out of the F-35 project by the U.S. Washington and Ankara were at odds over Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system, as American officials believed its adoption by a NATO power could compromise closely guarded details of the F-35's capabilities.

Turkey, which helped fund the development of the F-35, had agreed to procure 100 fighters. Though it has now been formally removed from the project, its F-35 production responsibilities will not shift over to U.S. facilities until 2020.

New Defense Secretary Mark Esper has suggested Ankara could rejoin the F-35 program if the S-400 components are completely removed from Turkish soil.

State news agency Tass quoted the head of Russia's Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, Dmitry Shugayev, who said Turkey is now in talks over Russian electronic warfare systems and Sukhoi Su-35 and Su-57 fighter jets.

Asked whether Turkey would purchase Russian planes, Erdogan replied: "Why not? We did not come here for nothing."

Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fighter jet
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inspect a new Sukoi Su-57 fighter at the MAKS 2019 show near Moscow, Russia, on August, 27, 2019. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/Getty