On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted a one-day powwow with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a meeting between two of the most outspoken and demagogic statesmen on the planet.
Putin's visit to Ankara was carried out with fitting pageantry: an escort of liveried cavalrymen on horseback, a full military salute and a series of discussions in the cavernous halls of Erdogan's vast, new presidential palace.
Top of the agenda, as is now always the case when it comes to Russia-Turkish bilateral relations, was the issue of energy. Turkey is Russia's second-largest European importer of natural gas after Germany, and its importance as a customer has only grown given the political tensions this year with the European Union and the U.S. over Moscow's power-play in Ukraine. That has led to sanctions and new geopolitical conundrums for Russia. The dramatic fall of the Russian ruble, a consequence of a drop in oil prices, has added to the sense of urgency.
In Ankara, Putin and Erdogan signed a protocol on energy cooperation; the two countries hope they can reach $100 billion in annual bilateral trade by 2020. The Russian leader also indicated Moscow would be abandoning plans for a gas pipeline to Europe via Bulgaria, an E.U. state, and instead focus on developing a gas hub to southern Europe through Turkey.
The economic imperatives, though, could not obscure a larger divergence between the two countries, particularly in the realm of foreign policy.
For the past few years, Putin has been one of the most prominent defenders of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In that same period, Erdogan has been one of Assad's most vociferous critics, eager for a more robust international intervention into Syria's brutal civil war and regime change in Damascus.
Putin has backed Egypt's new president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, an army man who came to power through a coup last year; Erdogan fumed over Sissi's ascension and labeled him a "tyrant."
And when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula earlier this year, Erdogan was compelled to protest on behalf of the Crimean Tatars, a Turkic people whose history turned traumatic when they fell under rule from Moscow.
Yet these underlying differences have rarely turned into public disputes. As a report by the Moscow Carnegie Center put it, Russia and Turkey "have largely managed to compartmentalize their relations." That's down to pragmatism and realpolitik. But the similarities between the two countries' leaders are hard to miss. Here are some reasons why Putin and Erdogan could look to each other, and find a kindred spirit.
Neither of these men will ever be considered bleeding heart liberals. Putin is an ardent Russian nationalist and a devotee of the Russian Orthodox Church. His government has enacted legislation hostile to gays, while Putin himself is hardly a champion of gender equality.
Meanwhile, Erdogan, a man from humble origins who is unashamed of his Muslim faith, has shaken the landscape in Turkey, a country which for decades embraced an ironclad secularism in all aspects of its social and political life. On the back of the votes of his conservative, Islamic-oriented base in Anatolia, Erdogan has remained in power for more than a decade.
He and Putin both have a strong allergy to Western lecturing about universal values and human rights.
And the duo could perhaps find common ground when talking about the other sex: just last week, Erdogan attracted headlines after insisting women could not be equal to men "because their nature is different."
Squelching the opposition
Both Putin and Erdogan have overcome challenges to their authority in recent years and seem bent on consolidating power. Despite public opposition and protests, Putin contested a third term as president in 2012, which he won in controversial circumstances. His government then set about crushing the opposition and arrested dozens of dissidents.
Last year, millions took to the streets of some of Turkey's major cities in protests that were seen as a reaction to Erdogan's "creeping authoritarianism." His government withstood the demonstrations and occupations and eventually dispersed the protesters. Erdogan has also endured a series of corruption scandals and a bitter political war with the Gulenists, an influential movement that was once in his camp, but has since turned on him.
Yet he triumphed in presidential elections this year and is now keen to change the Turkish constitution in order to perhaps further cement his rule.
Putin, to be clear, is further down the path of being a full-fledged autocrat than Erdogan: elections in Turkey are more competitive (and more fair) than those that take place in Russia. Putin's party arguably has a greater stranglehold over national politics, and pro-Kremlin media outlets are far more dominant in the national conversation. Putin even managed to get a law passed this year criminalizing certain forms of protest.
Nostalgia for empire
As part of their cults of personality, Erdogan and Putin both appeal to the glories of an imperial past. In Erdogan's case, it is his overt embrace of the memory of the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed at the end of World War I. Earlier generations of Turkish nationalists shunned the Ottoman past -- that of a polyglot, multi-ethnic empire too weak to rival Europe's nation-states -- for a narrower, more muscular, secular identity. Not so Erdogan, who invokes the Ottomans in everything from his vision of Turkey's place in the Middle East to building projects along the Bosporus.
Putin, meanwhile, clings to an inflated sense of Russia's place in the world, one that has far more to with the dreams of earlier Tsarist and Soviet rulers than the current realities of Russia's faltering economy and demographics. Putin framed the return of Crimea to Russia as a vindication for all the Russian blood spilled over this Black Sea peninsula in the 19th century through World War II. Moreover, Moscow's tacit support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine plays up an 18th century vision of the region as "Novorossiya," or "New Russia."
That concept originally emerged at a moment when Tsarist Russia was exerting control over lands it had wrested free from the limp hold of the Ottomans. Until the last years of their existence, the two empires were frequently battling each other.
Putin and Erdogan, of course, would not let such history get in the way of closer ties.