Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met on 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 dovetail formation and competing interests.
Ahead of the meeting, leaders’ aides portrayed the talks as a continuation of their talks in Iran on July 19 — including some Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader — on issues such as drones, grain shipments, energy and 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.
In brief remarks to the cameras before the leaders’ discussion began, Mr Putin thanked Mr Erdogan for Turkey’s role in brokering a deal to export Ukrainian grain, which would also allow the export of Russian food and fertilizer. Much emphasis was placed on economic matters, with Mr Putin expressing the hope that the talks would lead to better trade and economic ties.
On Syria, Mr Putin said the two would discuss “security issues in the region, mainly the Syrian crisis”, choosing to focus on efforts to normalize the situation there rather than focusing on their sharp divisions . Turkey has long threatened to invade Kurdish groups along the border but wants to do so without risking an armed clash with Russia of the type that tore relations in 2015 after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter.
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Raising many of the same issues, Mr Erdogan said the steps taken in energy, grain, the Black Sea and transport are examples of the important role Turkey and Russia play in the region.
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 the country’s crude 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. The country also remains a popular destination for Russian tourists.
However, major differences remain between the two leaders. Their countries have supported opposing sides in the civil war in Syria, Turkey’s neighbor. 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 looking for equipment.
“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.