President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held marathon talks on Friday over a range of complementary and competing interests, pledging to strengthen economic ties at a time when Turkey is emerging as Moscow’s main trading bridge to the rest of the world.
In a joint statement released after four hours of talks in the Russian resort town of Sochi, the leaders stressed the importance of grain exports via the Black Sea. Turkey has been instrumental in mediating a recent hard-won deal allowing Ukraine to resume grain exports this week for the first time since the Russian invasion at the end of February. The agreement was accompanied by Western assurances that Russian agricultural exports were not subject to sanctions.
The absence of Ukrainian grain for months on world markets has driven up prices and threatened to sow famine in Africa and the Middle East.
The two sides also agreed to continue their cooperation in the field of energy, which Russia supplies in volume to Turkey. Mr Putin praised the TurkStream pipeline as the main conduit for Russian gas which continues to flow to Europe. Russian officials have said Turkey has also agreed to settle part of its substantial annual energy bill in rubles – something many Western countries have refused to do because it would ease their tough sanctions, some of which are aimed at weakening the Russian currency.
Russia, which is constantly looking for ways to evade these sanctions, sees cooperation with Turkey as a key to easing its economic and political isolation.
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The talks, which came less than three weeks after the leaders’ meeting in Iran, reinforced Turkey’s role as an important mediator between Ukraine and Russia, as well as between Russia and NATO, including Turkey. is a member. But that hasn’t resolved some of the sticking points between them, including security in the Middle East, or the possibility that Mr Putin will use his relationship with Turkey to try to find or create cracks in Western unity. against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr. Erdogan is on track to retain the ability to talk to both Russia, NATO’s enemy, and Western members of the alliance. Turkey has maintained its refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia, angering its NATO allies, but Mr Erdogan has also, in a crucial move, lifted his initial objections to Sweden and Turkey joining. Finland to the alliance as a bulwark against Russian aggression.
By helping Russia export gas and grain, analysts say, Turkey provides a useful outlet for goods that Western capitals want to see traded. And trade with Russia helps solve Turkey’s substantial economic problems. However, Ankara has been reluctant to provide the Kremlin with such aid as it provokes Western capitals.
For his part, Mr. Putin’s meetings with Turkey tell the West “that he intends to maintain the economic relations that offer Russia a breather in the face of sanctions”, Ahmet said. Kasım Han, Professor of International Relations and Economics at Istanbul Aydin. University in Turkey.
Mr Putin has tried to exploit the differences between Turkey and its NATO allies in years past, selling Turkey advanced anti-aircraft systems.
“Putin is still working from the same playbook,” Mr. Ont said. “He’s trying to keep Turkey a little bit apart from its Western partners.”
The joint statement said the two sides agreed to work together in Syria and Libya, areas of conflict where they have supported opposing parties. However, he did not specify how, and there was no indication that Mr Putin, who supported the Syrian government during its long civil war, had given the green light to Mr Erdogan to attack Kurdish groups that Turkey considers like terrorists, based just across its southern border with Syria.
Although Dmitry S. Peskov, Russian presidential press secretary, suggested before the meeting that it would include military-technical cooperation, there was no mention of this in the statement. Low-cost Turkish drones sold to Ukraine have been used to devastating effect against Russian forces.
Safak Timur contributed report.