Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met on Friday in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi in southern Russia for a second face-to-face conversation in less than three weeks in a complex context of interlocking and competing interests.
Prior to the meeting, the leaders’ aides described the talks as a continuation of their discussions in Iran on July 19 – some of which included Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader – which dealt with issues such as drones, shipments of wheat, energy and Syria.
Mr. Erdogan has emerged as an important mediator between Ukraine and Russia, who is looking for ways to get out of the economic and political isolation imposed by the West for the invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member and long-frustrated EU applicant, was instrumental in forging an agreement between the two warring countries to urgently restart Ukrainian grain shipments across the Black Sea.
In brief comments on cameras before the leaders’ discussion began, Putin thanked Mr. Erdogan for Turkey’s role in mediating a deal to export Ukrainian grain that also allowed shipments of Russian food and fertilizer exports. There was a strong emphasis on economic issues, with Putin expressing hope that the talks would lead to a strengthening of trade and economic ties.
On Syria, Putin said the two will discuss “security issues in the region, mainly the Syrian crisis,” choosing to emphasize efforts to normalize the situation there rather than focus on their strong divisions. Turkey has long threatened a raid against Kurdish groups along the border, but it wants to do so without risking an armed confrontation with Russia of the kind that frayed relations in 2015 after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter.
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Mr. Erdogan, while addressing many of the same topics, said the steps taken on issues such as energy, wheat, the Black Sea and transport were examples of the important role that Turkey and Russia play in the region.
Mr. Erdogan is walking a fine line to maintain the ability to speak both with Russia, an enemy of NATO, and with Western members of the alliance. Turkey maintained its refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia, angering its NATO allies, but Erdogan also, in a crucial move, eased his initial objections to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance as a bulwark. against Russian aggression.
Russia is a key energy supplier to Turkey, supplying a quarter of the country’s crude oil imports and nearly half of its natural gas purchases last year. Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear company, is building a nuclear power plant in the Mediterranean that is expected to supply 10% of Turkey’s energy needs after its planned completion in 2026.
For its part, Turkey is becoming an important transshipment point for goods bound for Russia now that many Western transport companies no longer handle shipments to Russia for fear of defying sanctions, Turkish newspaper Dunya reported Thursday. The country also remains a popular destination for Russian tourists.
However, strong differences remain between the two leaders. Their countries supported opposing sides in the civil war in Syria, Turkey’s neighbor. The Kremlin has spent blood and treasure to support President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, which has absorbed over 3.7 million Syrian war refugees, supports an opposing rebel faction and threatens a new military offensive in northern Syria. They have also been involved on opposite sides in the violent border dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Their arms relations are also complex. In recent years, Turkey has challenged its NATO partners to purchase Russian anti-aircraft missiles. And now, Russia, starved of war-related Western sanctions for technologies like missile guidance systems and drones, is urgently searching for material.
“Military-technical cooperation between the two countries is constantly on the agenda and the very fact that our interaction is developing in this sensitive sphere shows that, on the whole, the whole range of our interrelationships is at a very high level. high, “Dmitri S. Peskov, the Russian presidential press secretary, told reporters Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Safak Timur contributed to the report.