Turkish President Erdogan has held a joint press conference with President Putin in Sochi where the often difficult but important relations between the two countries was minimised in a generally positive meeting.
Putin restricted his opening remarks to generally non-confrontational matters including trade and tourism.
The Russian President emphasised the importance of continuing to expand Russia’s trading and technology exchange with Turkey. To this end, Putin spoke positively about energy relations between the two countries, especially where the so-called Turkstream pipeline is concerned. He further announced that Russia will invest $22 billion to help complete the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Turkey.
Putin also emphasised the mutual goal of engaging in bi-lateral trade using local currencies as opposed to Dollars or Euros. This is a further sign of Turkey drifting further from both the United States and the EU.
The two leaders seemed to avoid pointed statements on Syria as much as possible. This is of course the area where the two countries have the sharpest differences. Turkey has been a long-term proponent of regime change in Damascus whilst Russia is part of the Syrian anti-terrorist coalition, a coalition which is fighting groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda in addition to the Turkish backed terrorist group FSA.
Turkey has been keen to push for so-called ‘safe zones’ in Syria, which are effectively no-fly zones. Although Putin was not opposed to the idea of safe-zones within the framework of a larger ceasefire, he refused to make any further specific promises.
Putin responded to this idea in the following way,
“The monitoring of the implementation of the truce in safe zones is an issue for separate talk”.
Vladimir Putin did however remind his audience that ultimately, Syria’s future is not for any foreign power to meddle in. He stated,
“In the end, only they (Syrians) are in charge of their country’s fate. On our side, we – Russia, Turkey and Iran – as guarantors of a ceasefire, will make everything for such mechanisms to improve and be efficient”.
Putin was careful not to allow Russia’s strategic long and medium term differences with Turkey become points of confrontation during the press conference. The Russian President made it clear that the proper forum to discuss Syria was in the Astana Peace Talks rather than his press conference with Erdogan.
This contrasts sharply with yesterday’s press conference that was held between Putin and Angela Merkel during which Putin was quite adamant about how Russian and German policies differ greatly in key areas.
This goes a long way in demonstrating just how important a long term partner Turkey is for Russia. Putin is clearly thinking beyond Erdogan’s Presidency and towards the wider future in which Russia and Turkey will both be on similar economic sides of the multi-polar world.