Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, plan to meet Friday in the southern Russian resort of Sochi for a second face-to-face conversation in less than three weeks against a complicated backdrop. of dovetailing 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 everything from drones to grain shipments to energy in 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 long-frustrated EU aspirant, proved instrumental in brokering a deal between the two warring countries to urgently restart Ukrainian grain shipments via the Black Sea.
The deal is now being tested, with an initial ship having left the Ukrainian port of Odesa on Monday bound for Lebanon and three more leaving Ukrainian ports on Friday, with cargoes of grain desperately needed to help deal with the growing global lack of food.
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 has maintained its refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia, angering its Nato allies, but Mr Erdogan, in a crucial move, relaxed 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, Turkey’s Dunya newspaper reported on Thursday. And the country remains a popular destination for Russian tourists, with 1.4 million visits this year, according to Interfax.
However, sharp differences remain between the two leaders. Their countries have supported opposing sides in the civil war in neighboring Turkey, Syria. 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, an issue that talks on Friday promise to address.
“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 entire spectrum 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.