Putin meets Er­do­gan to re­fresh ties after cri­sis TurkStream gas pipe­line looks pos­i­tive

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin met Turk­ish coun­ter­part Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan in Is­tan­bul yes­ter­day, push­ing for­ward am­bi­tious joint en­ergy projects on his first visit to Tur­key since a cri­sis in ties. Only a few months ago, the two post-im­pe­rial strong­men were ex­chang­ing bit­terly per­sonal ac­cu­sa­tions after Tur­key shot down a Rus­sian war plane on the Syr­ian bor­der last Novem­ber. But after a June agree­ment to nor­mal­ize ties, this was the pair’s third meet­ing fol­low­ing an ini­tial ice-break­ing meet­ing in Saint Peters­burg and an en­counter on the side­lines of the G20 in China in Septem­ber.

Be­fore their meet­ing be­gan at the Ot­toman­era Yildiz Palace in Is­tan­bul, the pair reaf­firmed their com­mit­ment to the planned TurkStream gas pipe­line to pump Rus­sian gas un­der the Black Sea to Europe in speeches to an en­ergy congress. Speak­ing at the World En­ergy Congress, Putin vowed that the project would be re­al­ized, while Er­do­gan said work was al­ready un­der way and Tur­key looked on it “pos­i­tively”. Putin also con­grat­u­lated Er­do­gan for de­feat­ing the July 15 coup bid against his rule, say­ing Rus­sia had been very con­cerned by the sit­u­a­tion and was “glad” Tur­key was now re­cov­er­ing.

Yet the two coun­tries still face a ma­jor task to raise re­la­tions to the level en­joyed be­fore the jet cri­sis. Eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed by Rus­sianow 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. Rus­sia and Tur­key re­main at odds over the Syria con­flict, with Moscow a key backer of the regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad while his exit from power is Tur­key’s key strate­gic aim. But 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.

In his speech to the congress, Er­do­gan com­plained how a child in Aleppo “only sees bombs dropped by he­li­copters and planes that tar­get them” but made no men­tion of Rus­sia or the As­sad regime. “Let’s ex­ert ef­forts to­gether for an end to clashes in Syria,” he said.

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 two-way 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 work to­gether.

“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.

Pipe­line or pipe dream?

The TurkStream pipe­line is planned to pump 31.5 bil­lion cu­bic me­ters per year of Rus­sian gas to Europe, help­ing Moscow limit the gas tran­sit through Ukraine. But an­a­lysts have long been skep­ti­cal 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. Rus­sia is also slated to build Tur­key’s first nu­clear power station in Akkuyu on the Mediter­ranean, a project which Er­do­gan sees a pil­lar of the hy­dro­car­bon-poor coun­try’s drive for greater en­ergy self-suf­fi­ciency. Er­do­gan said Tur­key wanted to pro­duce around 10 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity from nu­clear en­ergy, with Akkuyu the first of three planned nu­clear plants. —AFP

IS­TAN­BUL: Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan (R) talks with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part Vladimir Putin dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 23rd World En­ergy Congress. — AFP

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