Vladimir Putin has met Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for talks that are expected to focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine and are also rumored to include the Kremlin’s efforts to circumvent Western sanctions.
Putin welcomed the Turkish president to Sochi, a resort town on the Black Sea, by thanking him for helping him negotiate an international deal that would resume the export of grain from Ukraine, which had been disrupted by the Kremlin’s war machine, as well as Russian foodstuffs and fertilizers – to the world markets.
The deal ended a deadlock that had threatened a global food crisis as Ukraine and Russia are some of the world’s largest grain exporters. Another three ships carrying nearly 60,000 tons of grain left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Friday and are bound for Britain, Ireland and Turkey, respectively.
“This is a very pressing issue for many countries, primarily the developing countries that are on the brink of major food and fertilizer supply problems. The decisions made with your direct participation are very important for all these countries,” Putin told Erdoğan as their meetings began behind closed doors.
But reports have warned that the meeting may serve an ulterior motive. A Ukrainian government report described by the Washington Post said Putin would seek Russian interests in Turkish oil refineries, terminals and reservoirs to help disguise the origins of Russian oil exports ahead of a planned EU oil embargo. The paper also reported that Russia could seek correspondent accounts for major Russian banks to evade financial sanctions.
The Russian government has not confirmed the report and there was no indication that Turkey would accept the proposals, putting the NATO member at significant risk of secondary sanctions.
At least publicly, economic cooperation was at the forefront of the discussions. Putin noted that the TurkStream pipeline had continued to operate “smoothly”, unlike any other route that supplies our hydrocarbons. Erdoğan came up with plans to build a nuclear power plant with Russian help.
But tensions between the two countries and their leaders remain significant. Turkey is a member of NATO, has sold advanced weapons like Bayraktar drones to Ukraine and is at odds with Russia over the future of Syria, where the Kremlin has supported Bashar al-Assad while Turkey has tried to gain influence in the north. of the country. .
There were other indications that the two leaders intended to discuss more than just their economic agenda. Before the meeting began, Russian journalists noted that Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader who has sent troops under his command to both Syria and Ukraine, was present.
The two men are expected to speak behind closed doors over a late lunch. They are not expected to issue a joint statement after the summit. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak is expected to address the press after the summit.