December 7, 2023

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Friday in the southern Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi for their second face-to-face conversation in less than three weeks in a complicated setting. accumulating and competing interests.

Aides to the leaders portrayed the talks in Sochi as a follow-up to their discussions in Iran on July 19 – some of which included Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader – covering topics such as drones, grain shipments, energy and Syria.

Mr Erdogan has emerged as an important mediator between Ukraine and Russia, which is exploring ways out of the economic and political isolation imposed by the West over its invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member and longtime frustrated EU aspirant, proved instrumental in brokering a deal between the two warring countries to urgently restart Ukrainian grain shipments via the Black Sea.

In brief remarks to the cameras before the leaders’ discussion began, Mr Putin thanked Mr Erdogan for Turkey’s role in brokering a Ukrainian grain export deal that also allowed shipments of Russian food and fertilizer exports. There was a strong focus on economic issues, with Mr Putin expressing hope that the talks would bring strengthened trade and economic ties.

On Syria, Mr Putin said the two would discuss “security issues in the region, mainly the Syrian crisis”, choosing to emphasize efforts to normalize the situation there rather than focus on their sharp divisions. Turkey has long threatened an incursion against Kurdish groups along the border, but wants to do so without risking an armed conflict with Russia of the kind that soured relations in 2015 after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter jet.

Mr. Erdogan, while referring to many of the same issues, said the steps taken on issues such as energy, grain, the Black Sea and transportation were examples of the important role Turkey and Russia are playing in the region.

Mr Erdogan is walking a fine line to maintain the ability to talk to both NATO foe Russia and Western members of the alliance. Turkey stands by its refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia, angering its Nato allies, but Mr Erdogan, in a crucial move, eased his initial objections to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance as a bastion against Russian aggression.

Russia is a critical energy supplier to Turkey, providing a quarter of the country’s crude imports and nearly half of its natural gas purchases last year. Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear company, is building a nuclear plant in the Mediterranean that is projected to supply 10 percent of Turkey’s energy needs after its scheduled completion in 2026.

For its part, Turkey is becoming a major transshipment point for Russia-bound goods now that many Western freight companies are no longer handling Russia-bound shipments for fear of defying sanctions, Turkish daily Dunya reported on Thursday. The country also remains a popular destination for Russian tourists.

However, sharp differences remain between the two leaders. Their countries have supported opposing sides in the civil war in Syria, neighboring Turkey. The Kremlin has spent blood and treasure to support President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, which has absorbed more than 3.7 million Syrian war refugees, is backing a rival rebel faction and threatening a new military offensive in northern Syria. . They have also been embroiled on opposing sides in the violent escalation of the border dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Their relationship with weapons is also complicated. In recent years, Turkey has defied its NATO partners to buy Russian anti-aircraft missiles. And now, Russia – starved of war-related Western sanctions over technology such as missile guidance systems and drones – is urgently seeking hardware.

“Military-technical cooperation between the two countries is permanently on the agenda, and the very fact that our interaction is developing in this sensitive area shows that, overall, the whole range of our interactions is at a very high level,” said Dmitry. S. Peskov, the press secretary of the Russian presidency, told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency.

Shafak Timur contributed to the report.

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