By Kamila Aliyeva
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on September 28. Ankara and Moscow’s positions on Syrian issue, situation in Iraq, mutual trade as well as energy issues topped the agenda of the talks.
Following the top level meeting, Turkey and Russia agreed to closely cooperate on putting an end to Syria’s civil war.
Moscow and Ankara will work to ‘deepen coordination’ on ending the six-year-old Syrian war, Putin said at a joint press conference with Erdogan, who in turn noted that Turkey “will continue close cooperation with Russia for reaching a political solution to the crisis.”
Erdogan also announced that both sides will "pursue more intensely" the creation of a de-escalation zone in Idlib Province.
"Readiness was confirmed to comply with the final agreements on creating four de-escalation zones, including the biggest of them in Idlib Province," Putin added.
It was agreed to continue close contacts through the ministries of foreign affairs, military and special services with a view to deepening the coordination of joint actions to resolve the crisis in Syria and other regional problems.
Turkey together with the U.S. backs the rebel side in the Syrian war while Russia supports Bashar al-Assad’s regime. However, Ankara has increasingly been co-operating with Russia and Iran to stabilize the country.
Russia, Turkey and Iran - had agreed on May 4 in the Kazakh capital, Astana, to establish "de-escalation zones" in war-torn Syria. The zones would cover the city of Idlib and certain parts of Latakia, Homs, Aleppo and Hama as well as Damascus, Eastern Ghouta, Daraa and Quneitra.
Erbil referendum in Iraq
Putin's official visit to Ankara came three days after the two leaders held a telephone conversation during which they discussed the controversial independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan.
Presidents of Russia and Turkey reinforced their support for the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria.
“Today we discussed Syria and Iraq and agreed on the need to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria. The referendum has no legitimacy. The authorities of Northern Iraq made a big mistake. No one has the right to turn our region into a burning one," Erdogan told journalists.
The Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) held a controversial independence referendum in northern Iraq, including areas disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, on September 25. Election authorities in Kurdistan announced that the independence referendum passed with 92 percent support.
Iraq, Iran and Turkey - countries with Kurdish minorities - have all denounced the referendum as a threat to the stability of a region already beset by conflict, while the United States has expressed similar disquiet.
However, the Kremlin has not explicitly condemned the referendum, stressing instead the importance of maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity.
Both presidents vowed for progress in trade and economic relations, while Erdogan said that the two states aim to increase their trade turnover to $100 billion a year.
Putin noted that Russia and Turkey will continue to lower trade barriers.
He said Russia has already lifted most of its restrictions on Turkish agricultural products, resulting in a 58.7 percent surge in imports of Turkish fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural products in the first half of the current year.
The Russian leader said that when the trade restrictions were in place last year, overall trade fell by 32 percent. But with the lifting of many restrictions, so far this year trade restored by 31.5 percent, according to Putin.
Press Secretary of the Russian leader Dmitry Peskov noted that tomato supplies were also discussed at the recent meeting.
Previously, the Russian Agriculture Ministry has submitted to the Government its proposals on the mechanism for the resumption of tomato imports from Turkey.
Russia levied an embargo on the imports of certain products from Turkey because of the jet-downing crisis in late 2015. Many have been resolved, except the tomato ban, which is the most serious for the Turkish suppliers.
After the tomato ban, the amount of Turkish tomato exports to Russia decreased by 10.3 percent while their value dropped by 34.3 percent in 2016.
Turkey exported 541,000 tons of tomatoes to Russia in 2015, however, the amount fell to 486,000 tons. The value of tomato exports to the country was $365.3 million in 2015 and later decreased to $239.9 million, Daily Sabah reported.
However, during the first seven months of the current year, the amount of tomatoes exported to Russia increased by 9.4 percent and the value of tomato exports also surged by 24.7 percent.
The Turkish Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant (NPP) being built in Turkey with Russian collaboration are of high importance for both countries’ energy sector.
"One of the main branches of cooperation between our countries is energy. We place great importance on the realization of these projects swiftly," Erdogan said noting that “they are ongoing, and we are ready to give them acceleration."
Moscow counts on the launch of the first power unit of the Akkuyu NPP in Turkey in a short time, Putin highlighted.
"Of course, this will require coordinated actions from us and our Turkish partners, including the timely receipt of necessary permits, documents and licenses," he added.
Akkuyu is the world's first nuclear power plant project implemented on BOO ("build-own-operate") basis. In accordance with this model, Russia will build, own and operate the plant.
The plant will have a capacity of 4,800 megawatts in four units and a working lifetime of 8,000 hours per year. In its first phase, two units with a capacity of 2,400 megawatts are planned to be completed by 2023.
The Turkish side expects the first unit of Akkuyu NPP to start generating electricity on October 29, 2023 on the centennial anniversary of the Turkish Republic.
Putin also recalled that just recently the laying of the deep-water part of the TurkStream gas pipeline was started and currently "all construction works are being carried out strictly on schedule."
The Turkish Stream envisages the construction of a gas pipeline along the seabed of the Black Sea to Turkey’s European part and further on to the border with Greece.
The first stretch will be intended for the Turkish market and the second will supply natural gas to countries of South and Southeast Europe. Each stretch will have a capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually. The pipeline is expected to annually pump 31.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Its total cost was estimated at $12.9 billion.
Gazprom launched the construction of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline’s offshore section near the Russian coast of the Black Sea on May 7.
Missing points in discussions
The agenda of the upcoming meeting was expected to include Turkey's purchase of S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia which sparked displease among Turkey's Western partners.
However, the sides haven't touched upon this issue during the press conference and even haven't even mentioned the deal.
Turkey’s decision to buy a Russian missile-defense system posed a question on Turkey’s position in the NATO.
The deal on S-400 raised eyebrows among Ankara’s fellow NATO members and caused concerns as they are supposed to only buy compatible weapons systems from other members.
Turkey explained the move saying that the country has to ensure it security and no other country from the NATO alliance has agreed to provide it with necessary arms.
Kamila Aliyeva is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Kami_Aliyeva
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