Putin hails Turkey's Erdogan as 'strong leader'

FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Turkey's President Erdogan meet on the sidelines CICA summit in Astana

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday as a "strong leader" who always defended Turkey's interests.

Putin said Erdogan was not always an "easy partner" to deal with, but that Turkey was always "reliable" and had a desire to reach agreements.

Erdogan has played a vital role as a go-between for Kyiv and Moscow since the start of the conflict, brokering the Black Sea grain deal and assisting in a number of prisoner exchangers - the only diplomatic breakthroughs to date in the eight-month conflict.

(Reporting by Reuters; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)