MOSCOW (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Russia on Friday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin grain trade The prospect of talks to end hostilities in Ukraine, the situation in Syria and growing economic ties between Moscow and Ankara, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.
Erdogan said at the start of the meeting at Putin’s Black Sea residence in Sochi that their talks would help “put forward the role Turkey and Russia play in the region”. He saw the talks as key, saying the rest of the world was watching them closely.
“Today, of course, the eyes of the world are on Sochi,” Erdogan said. “They’re watching it, wondering what Sochi is talking about and what’s going on.”
Last month, Turkey and the United Nations helped broker a deal between Russia and Ukraine that cleared the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tonnes of agricultural products that have been stranded at its Black Sea ports since Moscow sent troops into the country more than five months ago. The deals also allow Russia to export grain and fertilizers.
Three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn leaving a Ukrainian port Friday. The first ship to set sail under the terms of the agreement left Ukraine earlier this week.
Putin thanked Erdogan for helping negotiate the grain deals, noting that they are important for many of the world’s countries that rely on Russian and Ukrainian exports to feed their people and grow their own crops.
“It’s an acute problem for many developing countries that face food and fertilizer problems,” he said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the talks in Sochi will allow Putin and Erdogan to review the implementation of the food deal, which is being overseen by Ukrainian, Russian and Turkish officials from Istanbul and the United Nations. The cargo ship was accompanied by a Ukrainian pilot vessel, safe passage due to explosive mines scattered in the Black Sea.
Erdogan and Putin also plan to discuss the military situation in Ukraine and Syria, Peskov said.
In March, Turkey hosted a round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators on a possible deal to end hostilities. The talks broke down after the Istanbul meeting, with Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of a lack of progress.
When Putin and Erdogan met on the sidelines of a tripartite summit with Iran in Tehran last month, the Turkish leader made the Russian president wait nearly a minute before entering the room. Some observers have interpreted the move as Erdogan’s newly tough stance on relations with Moscow. Pressure from the West is growing.
There was no sign of such a gesture during Friday’s talks, where both presidents cheered their relationship and vowed to develop them further. Erdogan’s visit to Sochi underscored the importance for Turkey of maintaining close ties with Russia.
NATO members Turkey and Russia have complicated relations. While the two countries support opposing sides in Syria and Libya, they work closely together on defense, energy and trade deals. Their relationship has frustrated Turkey’s Western allies, who are particularly annoyed by Ankara’s purchase of advanced Russian air defenses.
Turkey provided Ukraine with drones, which played an important role in deterring Russia’s advance in the early stages of the conflict, but did not join in imposing sanctions on Russia.
Putin welcomed energy cooperation between Russia and Turkey, noting the importance of the TurkStream pipeline, which transports Russian gas through the Black Sea to Turkey and southern Europe.
“European partners should thank Turkey for ensuring uninterrupted delivery of our gas to the European market,” Putin said.
The Russian president noted that Russian-Turkish trade doubled in the first five months of this year compared to the same period last year. The surge reflects Moscow’s growing focus on relations with Ankara as it faces tough sanctions from the West.
Turkey is also increasingly reliant on Russia for trade and tourism amid a major economic crisis with official inflation approaching 80 percent. Russian gas supplies 45 percent of Turkey’s energy needs, and the Russian Atomic Energy Agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu.
At the start of talks in Sochi on Friday, Erdogan stressed the importance of the nuclear power plant project and expressed hope that it would not face any delays. He noted that nuclear power plants would meet 10 percent of the country’s energy needs.
Erdogan added that the talks will open “very different pages” on energy deals, tourism, transport and regional issues. “
Relations between Russia and Turkey hit their lowest point in 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border, and Moscow responded by halting tourism to Turkey and banning the import of fruit, vegetables and other items from Turkey.
While Moscow and Ankara have backed opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Russia backing President Bashar al-Assad’s government with aid from Iran and Turkey backing the opposition, the two countries have worked closely together on a ceasefire in northwest Syria Negotiate.
Turkey now wants Moscow’s approval for its operation in northern Syria against Kurdish militants that Turkey considers terrorists.
Speaking to Putin on Friday, Erdogan said he hoped their discussions on Syria would “bring relief to the region”.
Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul.