Putin, Erdoğan meet in Sochi to bolster unwieldy alliance
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are meeting in the Black Sea town of Sochi on Wednesday to address problems in their countries’ mutually beneficial but unwieldy alliance.
Putin and Erdoğan are expected to address differences over policy towards Syria, Libya and the Caucasus as well discuss economic cooperation and plans for Turkey to purchase a second battery of S-400 air defence missiles.
Russia and Turkey have developed closer relations over the past five years as Putin sought to distance Ankara from its NATO partners and Erdoğan worked to enhance Turkey’s regional power free of Western influence.
Over the past week, Erdoğan has deployed more Turkish troops to northwestern Syria to push back Russian-backed Syrian government forces. Russian jets have bombarded the positions of Turkish-backed rebels near the town of Afrin near Turkey’s border. It considers the militants as terrorists.
Syria is set to top the agenda of the bilateral meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday, state-run Russian news agency TASS reported. Afghanistan, Libya and other global issues will also be discussed, he said.
The two leaders have also backed rival sides in the civil war in Libya - Ankara supports the United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli, while Moscow backs rebels in the east of the country, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
But troubles in the two countries' diplomatic relations are countered by economic cooperation. Russia is building a nuclear power station on Turkey’s southern coastline and is a major supplier of natural gas to its economy - it provides about half of the country’s gas needs. Turkish construction firms have also secured lucrative contracts to help improve Russia’s infrastructure.
Russia is also the biggest supplier of tourists to Turkey. Some seven million Russians visited in 2019, providing essential foreign currency earnings that help bolster the value of the maligned Turkish lira. The lira has hit a fresh record low against the dollar over the past week.
Putin is also expected to urge Erdoğan to press ahead with the purchase of a second battery of S-400 air defence missiles. Ankara’s acquisition of the weapons in 2019 has driven a rift within the NATO alliance and resulted in U.S. sanctions against Turkey’s defence industry. Washington has told Erdoğan that further sanctions will be imposed should Erdoğan go ahead with the purchase.
The Turkish president was defiant during an interview with CBS news published on Sunday, saying “nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defence systems we acquire, or from whom”.
Erdoğan is set to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome next month, Turkish state broadcaster TRT reported on Tuesday.