Putin in Turkey to push energy deals

Erdoğan and Putin in St. Petersburg, 9 August 2016. [The Kremlin]

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Turkey today (10 October) for talks with counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, pushing forward ambitious joint energy projects as the two sides try to overcome a crisis in ties.

Only a few months ago, Putin and Erdoğan were exchanging acrimonious accusations over Syria.

But the two leaders are expected to reaffirm their commitment to the planned TurkStream gas pipeline to pump Russian gas under the Black Sea to Europe, and the Russian construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power station.

Russia-Turkey rapprochement revives Turkish Stream pipeline talks

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday (8 August) that Ankara was ready to take steps towards the implementation of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project.

The meeting in Istanbul between the two post-imperial strongmen will be their third encounter since their governments agreed in June to normalise ties.

Turkey shot down of a Russian warplane over Syria in November 2015, sparking their worst crisis in ties since the Cold War.

Economic sanctions imposed by Russia – now gradually being lifted – have severely dented trade. And a ban on charter flights to Turkey, which is also now over, reduced the usually substantial flow of Russian tourists to a trickle.

Turkey and Russia decide to ‘reset’ their relationship

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday (9 August) pledged to boost their cooperation and forget the “difficult” moments of the past.

Erdogan’s visit to Putin’s hometown of Saint Petersburg is also his first foreign trip …

Putin and Erdoğan will meet on the opening day of the World Energy Congress, which brings together players across the energy sector and is a sign of Turkey’s determination to be a global hub despite a traumatic year of repeated terror attacks and a failed coup.

Russia and Turkey remain at odds over the Syria conflict, with Moscow a key backer of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad but Turkey making his exit from power its key strategic aim.

Turkey’s army digs deeper into Syria

Turkey’s army and its allies thrust deeper into Syria yesterday (28 August), seizing territory controlled by Kurdish-aligned forces on the fifth day of a cross-border campaign that a monitoring group said had killed at least 35 villagers.

Yet Turkey, which just months ago was loudly accusing Russia of war crimes in Syria, has been remarkably tight-lipped over the Syrian regime onslaught on rebel-held areas of Aleppo in recent weeks, as ties with Moscow have tentatively improved.

‘Healing process’

Analysts have long noted an ability on the part of Moscow and Ankara to show pragmatism in times of good relations and push disputes to one side, concentrating on strategic cooperation that includes a goal to reach annual bilateral trade of $100 billion.

Andrew Neff, principal analyst for the CIS and eastern Europe at IHS Energy, said that while it may take more time for relations to recover, Turkey and Russia have decided to focus on areas where they can cooperate.

“Something more along the lines of a healing process has begun with both sides eager to put the ugliness of the past 10 months behind them, aiming to focus on areas like energy where they have mutual interests in cooperation,” he told AFP.

Neff said Erdoğan was keen to use cooperation with Russia as a signal to Ankara’s Western partners that Turkey can still “go its own way”, after feeling let down by the United States and European Union in the wake of July’s attempted coup.

Pipeline or pipe dream?

The TurkStream pipeline is planned to pump 31.5 billion cubic metres per year of Russian gas to Europe, helping Moscow limit the gas transit through Ukraine.

But analysts have long been sceptical of its economic rationale and its actual construction has yet to start.

“TurkStream is still more pipe dream than pipeline, and the resumption of political and commercial ties only gets us back to the starting line, not necessarily on the track to the finish line,” said Neff.

He added that the target of 2017 to start pipe-laying seemed “overly optimistic” at this stage.

US discourages Greece from Turkish Stream

The United States wants Greece to focus on the Western-backed TAP pipeline project rather than the rival Gazprom-favoured project Turkish Stream, a US special envoy said.

Of more immediate impact could be forging ahead with construction of the southern Akkuyu plant, Turkey’s first nuclear power station, which Erdoğan sees a pillar of the hydrocarbon-poor country’s drive for greater energy self-sufficiency.

After an initial ice-breaking meeting on 9 August in Saint Petersburg, Putin and Erdoğan met again on the sidelines of the G20 in China in September.

The Russian leader admitted then that there was “still a lot to do” to restore full bilateral cooperation.

The World Energy Congress is to get underway with a keynote speech by Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih.

Putin is expected to address the gathering later in the day, as well as holding separate bilateral talks with Erdoğan.

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