Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, plan to meet Friday in the southern Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi for a second face-to-face meeting in less than three weeks against a complex backdrop of compatible and conflicting interests.
Leaders’ assistants portrayed the talks in Sochi as a continuation of their talks in Iran on July 19 — some with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — that covered everything from drones to grain shipments to energy to Syria.
Mr Erdogan has emerged as a key mediator between Ukraine and Russia as they seek ways out of the economic and political isolation imposed by the West over the invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member and long-frustrated EU applicant, proved instrumental in securing an agreement between the two warring countries to urgently restart Ukraine’s grain shipments through the Black Sea.
The deal is now being tested, with a first ship leaving Ukraine’s port of Odessa on Monday bound for Lebanon and three more being cleared to leave Ukrainian ports on Friday, carrying grain loads much needed to support a growing global economy. tackle food shortages.
Mr Erdogan is treading a thin line to maintain the ability to talk to both Russia, NATO’s enemy, and western alliance members. Turkey has maintained its refusal to join Western sanctions on Russia, which annoyed its NATO allies, but Mr Erdogan also softened, in a crucial step, his initial objections to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance. as a bulwark against Russian aggression.
Russia is a vital supplier of energy to Turkey, supplying a quarter of its crude oil imports and nearly half of its natural gas purchases last year. Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, is building a nuclear power plant on the Mediterranean Sea that is expected to supply 10 percent of Turkey’s energy needs after scheduled completion in 2026.
Turkey, for its part, is becoming a major transshipment point for goods bound for Russia as many Western freight companies no longer handle Russia-bound shipments for fear of defying sanctions, Turkish newspaper Dunya reported Thursday. And the country remains a popular destination for Russian tourists, with 1.4 million visitors this year, according to Interfax.
However, major differences remain between the two leaders. Their countries have supported opposing sides in the civil war in Turkey’s neighbor Syria. The Kremlin has shed blood and treasure to support President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, which has taken in more than 3.7 million Syrian war refugees, backs an opposing rebel faction and threatens a new military offensive in northern Syria. They have also been involved on both sides in the violently flaring border dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Their relationships regarding weapons are also complex. In recent years, Turkey has defied its NATO partners to buy Russian anti-aircraft missiles. And now Russia — starved by war-related Western sanctions on technology such as missile and drone guidance systems — is urgently in need of equipment, a topic Friday’s talks promise to tackle.
“Military-technical cooperation between the two countries is permanently on the agenda, and the fact that our interaction is developing in this sensitive area shows that in general the whole range of our mutual relations is at a very high level”, Dmitri S. Peskov, Russia’s presidential press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Safak Timur reporting contributed.