MOSCOW (AP) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Russia on Friday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on grain deal negotiated by Turkey and the UN, the prospects for talks on the end of hostilities in Ukraine, the situation in Syria and the development of economic ties between Moscow and Ankara.
Speaking at the start of the meeting at Putin’s Black Sea Residence in Sochi, Erdogan said their negotiations would help highlight the role Turkey and Russia are playing in the region. He called the talks pivotal, saying they were being watched closely by the rest of the world.
Today, of course, the eye of the world is on Sochi, Erdogan said. They follow him, wondering what is being discussed and what is being done in Sochi.
Last month, Turkey and the United Nations helped broker agreements between Russia and Ukraine to pave the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of agricultural products stuck in its Black Sea ports since Moscow sent troops to the country more than five months ago. The agreements also allow Russia to export grain and fertilizers.
Three other ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports Friday. The first ship to depart under the deal left Ukraine earlier in the week.
Putin thanked Erdogan for helping negotiate the grain deal, which is overseen from Istanbul by Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish officials and UN cargo ships are accompanied by Ukrainian pilot ships for safe passage because of the explosive mines scattered in the Black Sea.
The Russian leader stressed the importance of the agreement for many countries around the world that depend on Russian and Ukrainian exports to feed their people and grow their own crops. It is an acute problem for many developing countries, which face major food and fertilizer problems, he said.
In a statement released after the four-hour talks, Putin and Erdogan stressed the need for full realization of the comprehensive deal reached in Istanbul…including the unhindered export of Russian grain and fertilizer.
They also noted the key importance of sincere, frank and trusting ties between Russia and Turkey for regional and global stability.
In March, Turkey hosted a series of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who discussed a possible deal to end hostilities. The talks collapsed after the Istanbul meeting, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other for the lack of progress.
When Putin and Erdogan met in Tehran last month on the sidelines of a trilateral summit with Iran, the Turkish leader made the Russian president wait nearly a minute before entering the room. Some observers interpreted the action as a reflection of Erdogan’s newly asserted position in his relations with Moscow, which had to face growing pressure from the West.
There was no sign of such a posture during Friday’s talks, which saw the two presidents hailing their ties and pledging to develop them further. Erdogan’s visit to Sochi underlined the importance of close ties with Russia for Turkey.
Turkey and Russia, members of NATO, have a complex relationship. While the two countries back opposing sides in Syria and Libya, they cooperate closely on defence, energy and trade deals. Their relationship has frustrated Turkey’s Western allies, who have been particularly annoyed by Ankara’s purchase of a sophisticated Russian air defense system.
Turkey provided Ukraine with drones, which played an important role in deterring a Russian advance early in the conflict, but it did not join in imposing sanctions on Russia.
Putin praised the energy cooperation between Russia and Turkey, stressing the importance of the TurkStream gas pipeline which brings Russian gas to Turkey and southern Europe via the Black Sea.
European partners should be grateful to Turkey for ensuring the uninterrupted transit of our gas to European markets, Putin said.
He noted that Russian-Turkish trade had doubled in the first five months of the year compared to the same period last year, a surge reflecting Moscow’s growing emphasis on ties with Ankara as it was facing deadly Western sanctions.
Amid a major economic crisis with official inflation reaching almost 80%, Turkey is also increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45% of Turkey’s energy needs and the Russian atomic agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Erdogan stressed the importance of the nuclear power plant project, expressing hope that it will not suffer any delays and noting that the nuclear power plant would provide 10% of the country’s energy needs.
Speaking to reporters after the talks, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said the leaders reaffirmed that the nuclear power plant should be launched as planned next year.
He added that they had also agreed that Turkey would start paying partly in rubles for Russian gas supplies. Moscow previously opted for the ruble in its trade with EU customers to avoid Western sanctions that blocked most euro payments and froze Russian currency reserves abroad.
Novak also said that major agreements have been reached in the financial field to facilitate payments by Russian companies and citizens.
Very important decisions taken at today’s talks will take our economic and trade ties to a new level in virtually all areas, he told reporters.
Russian-Turkish relations hit a low point in 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border and Moscow responded by shutting down tourism to Turkey and banning imports of fruit and vegetables and other items from Turkey.
While Moscow and Ankara have backed opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, Russia bolstering President Bashar Assad’s government with the help of Iran while Turkey backs the opposition, the two countries have cooperated closely to negotiate a ceasefire agreement in northwestern Syria.
Turkey would like Moscow to give the green light to a Turkish operation in northern Syria against Kurdish militants whom Turkey considers terrorists.
Speaking to Putin on Friday, Erdogan expressed hope that their discussion on Syria would bring relief to the region.
In a statement after the talks, the two leaders stressed the need for close cooperation and coordination in the fight against all terrorist organizations.
Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul.
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