Sochi talks: Russia and Turkey strengthen strategic partnership

09.08.2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks in Sochi on August 5. As the Kremlin reported the day before, the agenda was formed in accordance with agreements reached during the meeting in Tehran as part of the trilateral summit of the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran in the Astana format.

The last meeting between the two leaders in Sochi took place on Sept. 29 2021 and, on that occasion, important decisions were made on issues such as nuclear energy, combating terrorism in Syria, space research, and cooperation in the defence industry.

Economy: greater cooperation, grain and gas in exchange for rubles

The Kremlin press service stressed the “prospects for further expansion of trade and economic ties and the advancement of joint strategic projects in the energy sector” as distinct points of the talks between the two leaders. Turkish media reported earlier that Erdogan expected to discuss during his trip to Sochi the situation in Ukraine and a “food deal” - an agreement on Ukrainian grain exports previously brokered by Turkey.

The Turkish president arrived in Sochi on the afternoon of August 5. Prior to his talks with the Russian president, the Turkish leader said he wanted to open “a new page in our Turkish-Russian relations”. The two leaders emphasized continued dialogue on energy (both gas and the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant), as well as the issue of grain exports from Ukrainian-controlled Black Sea ports.

Prior to the meeting between the two presidents, a Russian government economic delegation visited Turkey at Erdogan's invitation, preparing a roadmap for the talks. The two meetings are to result in the signing of a memorandum on the development of trade and economic relations between Russia and Turkey.

At the end of the talks, the two presidents signed a joint statement in which they agreed to “increase bilateral trade in a balanced way and achieve their goals; meet the expectations of their counterparts in the fields of economy and energy; and take concrete steps to strengthen cooperation on issues that have long been on both countries' agendas, in areas such as transportation, trade, agriculture, industry, finance, tourism and construction”.

Turkey, according to the statement, has also accepted this interpretation of the “Istanbul package of agreements” which includes “unimpeded exports of Russian grain, fertilizer and raw materials for their production” undermining the blockade imposed by the West on Russia.

The economic dimension of Russian-Turkish cooperation continues to play an important role in the context of the Western sanctions war against our country. In this context, Turkey is becoming a hub for circumventing the restrictive measures. Warehouses at Turkish ports are filled with goods destined for Russia, Dunya newspaper reported on August 4, citing people in the logistics industry. Turkey has become a busy transit hub for Russian imports.

As President Putin noted before the close of talks with Erdogan, “last year we had a 57 percent increase in trade turnover, and in the first months of this year, up to and including May, it doubled”.

Another important geoeconomic decision announced after the Sochi talks: Turkey will pay for Russian gas in rubles. This is another step toward weakening dollar hegemony.

Flying back from Russia, Erdogan told reporters that there have been “very serious changes” regarding the use of Russia's MIR payment card system, which allows Russians in Turkey to pay with cards at a time when Visa and Mastercard have suspended operations in their country. Erdogan said MIR cards will help Russian tourists pay for purchases and hotels.

Situation in Syria and Libya

On July 19, during the meeting of Russian and Iranian leaders in the Astana format, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the presidents “discussed the steps that could be taken so far in the current situation” regarding pro-U.S. Kurdish formations in Syria, “because the problem of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, YPG - People's Self-Defense Units, PYD - Democratic Union Party is a common problem”. Previously, Russia had formally opposed Turkey's operation in the territory where Kurdish units are deployed. However, according to President Putin, the situation is unacceptable “in Zayefrat, where, with the support of some countries, attempts are being made to establish an illegal foreign military presence in violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian state and to foment separatist sentiments”.

Before the talks with Erdogan, President Putin stressed that the “Syrian crisis” would not be circumvented.

It is clear that both Russia and Turkey have a geopolitical interest in eliminating the presence of the Americans and their proxies in Syria.

Prior to the Sochi talks, Turkish experts and political analysts reported that cooperation with Russia in the Middle East and North Africa (Libya) may have been on the agenda, given the growing U.S. focus on these regions.

During the meeting, the Turkish side had planned to discuss bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia and also developments in Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya, according to the Erdogan presidential news agency. Specifically, this was reported by the state-run TRT channel. Other media reported that the Libyan issue would be discussed.

On the eve of his visit to Sochi, prominent Libyan politicians, Moscow and Cairo-oriented Speaker of the Libyan Parliament, Agila Saleh and Vice President of the Libyan Presidential Council Abdullah al-Lafi-met with Erdogan.

The joint statement by the Russian and Turkish leaders focuses on Syrian and Libyan issues. The two countries are in solidarity on the issue of fighting terrorists and separatists, who are supported by the Americans. On Libya, Moscow and Ankara also declare solidarity:

“The two sides confirmed that they attach great importance to the advancement of the political process. The importance of preserving Syria's political unity and territorial integrity was stressed. Determination to act together and in close coordination with each other to combat all terrorist organizations was reaffirmed. Strong commitment to Libya's sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity. The parties stressed the importance of holding free, fair and credible elections based on the broadest possible consensus and reaffirmed their support for the ongoing Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process”, reads the document, signed in Sochi on August 5.

Turkish political analyst Mehmet Perincek, in his assessment of the Sochi summit for Aydınlık newspaper, stressed that “Turkey and Russia can act together on Libya. Imperialist forces can be removed from Libya. If Turkey will convince western Libya and Russia eastern Libya, the problem will be solved. Russia is not against the sale of oil to Libya. This will open the way for the sale of Libyan oil and its use for the benefit of the Libyan people”.

The situation in Libya has long not been a key topic of discussion between Moscow and Ankara. However, the security of the southern and eastern Mediterranean and the situation of energy markets depend on this North African country. Previously, Russia and Turkey had effectively ousted other powers from Libya, but now the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, and France are visibly entrenched in the region. Libya is strategically important for the effective oil embargo against Russia, for the supply of oil and gas to southern Europe, and for the stability of the African continent. Common ground can be found between Moscow and Ankara, which aims primarily at diminishing Western influence in the country and in the whole of North Africa.

Western reaction

The rapprochement between Russia and Turkey has alarmed the West. “Anxiety is growing in Western capitals about Turkey's deepening ties with Russia”, says the Financial Times. Six Western officials told the Financial Times they were concerned about the promise made Friday by Turkish and Russian leaders to expand trade and energy cooperation after a four-hour meeting in Sochi.

An EU official said the 27-member bloc is watching Turkish-Russian cooperation “more and more closely”, expressing concern that Turkey is “increasingly” becoming a platform for trade with Russia. Speaking to the publication, anonymous U.S. and EU officials said they could extend sanctions on Ankara if it continued its economic engagement with Moscow. On August 2, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed restrictive measures on Turkish company MMK Metalurji, introducing a new anti-Russian sanctions package. The company owns two steel factories in Turkey and a port in Hatay.

Turkey, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has emerged as an independent regional power, one of the centers of the Islamic world. The country is behaving increasingly independently of the West and seeks to actively integrate itself into the emerging multipolar world order. On this path its strategic interests coincide with those of Russia, although these interests diverge in tactical issues.

Translation by Costantino Ceoldo