Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Russia Friday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin focusing on a grain deal brokered by Turkey and the UN, prospects for talks on ending hostilities in Ukraine, the situation in Syria and growing economic ties between Moscow and Ankara.
Speaking at the start of the meeting at Putin’s Black Sea residence in Sochi, Erdogan said their negotiations would help “put forward the role that Turkey and Russia play in the region.” He cast the talks as pivotal, saying they were being watched closely by the rest of the world.
“Today, of, course, the world’s eye is on Sochi,” Erdogan said. “They are following it, wondering what is being discussed and done in Sochi.”
The two sides adopted a statement pledging to boost political and economic cooperation including in energy and trade.
The talks between Putin and Erdogan came as Russia’s isolation grows following its intervention in Ukraine.
“Despite the current regional and global challenges, the leaders reaffirmed their common will to further develop Russian-Turkish relations,” the Kremlin said in a statement following the four-hour talks.
While Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine was not explicitly mentioned in the statement, the leaders stressed the resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments, pointing to the two countries’ “constructive relations” that they stressed made the agreement possible.
The statement also made no direct mention of any new offensive that Turkey might be planning against Kurdish militants in Syria.
“The parties confirmed that they attach great importance to advancing the political process” in Syria, the statement said.
“The determination to act jointly and in close coordination with each other in the fight against all terrorist organizations was reaffirmed.”
At the start of the talks Putin also praised the TurkStream natural gas pipeline project, saying Europe should be grateful to Turkey for uninterrupted supplies of Russian gas.
Last month, Turkey and the United Nations helped broker agreements between Russia and Ukraine to clear the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of agricultural products stuck in 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 fertilizer.
Three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports Friday. The first vessel to depart under the terms of the deal left Ukraine earlier in the week.
Putin thanked Erdogan for helping to negotiate the grain deal, which is overseen from Istanbul by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN Cargo vessels are accompanied by Ukrainian pilot ships for safe passage because of explosive mines strewn in the Black Sea.
Speaking to reporters after the talks, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said the leaders agreed that Turkey will start partly paying in rubles for Russian gas supplies. Moscow has previously switched to rubles in its trade with EU customers to avoid Western sanctions that blocked most payments in euros and froze Russian hard currency reserves abroad.
Novak also said “big” agreements were reached in the financial sphere to facilitate payments by Russian companies and citizens.
“Very important decisions that were reached during today’s talks will take our economic and trade ties to a new level in practically all areas,” he told reporters.
While Moscow and Ankara have backed the opposite sides in the Syrian conflict, with Russia shoring up President Bashar Assad’s government with Iranian assistance while Turkey supported the opposition, the two countries cooperated closely to negotiate a cease-fire deal in northwestern Syria.
Speaking to Putin Friday, Erdogan voiced hope that their discussion on Syria would “bring relief to the region.”
In a statement after the talks, the two leaders underlined the need for “close cooperation and coordination in the fight against all terrorist organizations.”