Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, plan to meet on Friday in the southern Russian resort of Sochi, for a second face-to-face conversation in less than three weeks against a complex backdrop. Intertwined and competing interests.
Aides to the leaders portrayed the talks in Sochi as a continuation of their discussions in Iran on July 19 — some of which included Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader — covering everything from drones to shipments of grain to energy to Syria.
Mr. Erdogan has emerged as an important mediator between Ukraine and Russia, which is looking for ways to break the economic and political isolation imposed by the West over its invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member and long-frustrated bidder by the European Union, has proven effective in concluding an agreement between the two warring countries to urgently re-ship Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
The deal is now being tested, with an initial ship leaving the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday bound for Lebanon, and three more ships were allowed to leave Ukrainian ports on Friday, with shipments of grain badly needed to help tackle the growing global food shortage.
Mr. Erdogan is walking a fine line to retain the ability to talk with both Russia, an enemy of NATO, and Western members of the alliance. Turkey has held out its refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia, upsetting its NATO allies, but Mr. Erdogan also, in a decisive move, softened his initial objections to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance as a bulwark against Russian aggression.
Russia is an important energy supplier to Turkey, providing a quarter of the country’s crude oil imports and nearly half of its natural gas purchases last year. Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom is building a nuclear power plant on the Mediterranean that is expected to provide 10 percent of Turkey’s energy needs after its completion scheduled for 2026.
Turkey, for its part, has become an important transit point for goods bound for Russia now that many Western shipping companies have stopped handling shipments bound for Russia for fear of defying sanctions, the Turkish newspaper Dunya reported on Thursday. The country remains a popular destination for Russian tourists, with 1.4 million visiting this year, according to Interfax.
However, there are still stark differences between the two leaders. Their countries have supported opposing sides in the civil war in Syria, which borders Turkey. The Kremlin has poured blood and money into supporting President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, which has absorbed more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees due to the war, is backing an opposition faction and threatening to launch a new military offensive in northern Syria. They have also been involved on both sides in the escalating border dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Their relations with regard to weapons are also complex. In recent years, Turkey has challenged its NATO partners to purchase Russian anti-aircraft missiles. And now Russia – starved by Western sanctions related to the war on technology such as guidance systems for missiles and drones – is urgently seeking the equipment, a topic Friday’s talks vow to address.
“Military-technical cooperation between the two countries is always on the agenda, and the fact that our interaction is developing in this sensitive area shows that, in general, the entire scope of our mutual relations is at a very high level,” Dmitry Peskov, Russian presidential press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday, According to the Interfax news agency.
Shafak Timur Contribute to the preparation of reports.