Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday praised the TurkStream natural gas pipeline project, saying Europe should be grateful to Turkey for uninterrupted supplies of Russian gas.
Putin’s remarks came as he sat opposite his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ahead of their talks in the Black Sea city of Sochi. The negotiations were expected to focus on bilateral relations and regional developments, as well as the war in Ukraine, including the grain deal brokered by Turkey.
Erdoğan said their negotiations would help “put forward the role that Turkey and Russia play in the region.” He cast the talks as pivotal, saying they were being watched closely by the rest of the world.
“Today, of, course, the world’s eye is on Sochi,” Erdoğan said. “They are following it, wondering what is being discussed and done in Sochi.”
Russia’s invasion of its neighbor in late February sparked the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II and fueled a global energy and food crisis.
It triggered an energy stand-off between Moscow and the European Union, in an escalation that will make it harder, and costlier, for the block to fill up storage ahead of the winter heating season.
Putin hailed the energy cooperation between Russia and Turkey, noting the importance of the TurkStream pipeline that delivers Russian gas to Turkey and Southern Europe via the Black Sea.
“European partners should be grateful to Turkey for ensuring uninterrupted transit of our gas to European markets,” Putin said.
Commissioned in early 2020, the pipeline was part of Moscow’s efforts to reduce shipments via Ukraine. It has an annual capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) and consists of two 930-kilometer (577.88-mile) offshore lines and two separate onshore lines that are 142 and 70 kilometers long.
The first line with a capacity of 15.75 bcm is designated for supplies to Turkey’s domestic customers, while the second carries Russian gas further to Europe through Bulgaria.
Friday’s meeting follows another face-to-face meeting the two leaders had in Iran three weeks ago. Just days after, Turkey helped broker agreements between Moscow and Kyiv clearing the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products.
The supplies have been stuck in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports ever since Moscow sent troops into the country more than five months ago. The deals also allow Russia to export grain and fertilizer.
Three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports Friday. The first vessel to depart under the terms of the deal left Ukraine earlier in the week.
Putin thanked Erdoğan for helping to negotiate the grain agreements, noting their importance for many countries around the world that depend on Russian and Ukrainian exports to feed their people and to grow their own crops.
“It’s an acute issue for many developing countries, which face major problems with food and fertilizers,” he said.
Under the agreement, Turkey is hosting a joint center where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and United Nations representatives work to ensure the safe transit of Ukraine’s exports to world markets.
Turkey depends heavily on Russia and Ukraine for grain. Russia accounted for 56% of Turkish grain imports in 2021 at $2.24 billion, while imports from Ukraine amounted to $861 million.
Erdoğan expressed hope that Friday talks would open a “different page” on energy deals, tourism, transportation and regional issues.”
“I believe that (today’s meeting) will open a whole different chapter in Turkish-Russian relations,” he said.
Erdoğan said earlier meetings between Turkish and Russian delegations on politics, economic and trade issues had been fruitful.
Putin told Erdoğan he was hoping to sign an agreement to boost trade and economic ties, as he said Russian-Turkish trade doubled in the first five months of the year compared to the same period last year.
The surge reflected Moscow’s growing focus on ties with Ankara as it faced bruising Western sanctions.
“I hope that today we will be able to sign a relevant memorandum on the development of our trade and economic ties,” Putin said.
Turkey depends on Russia for natural gas imports and Russia’s atomic agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu.
Russian natural gas made up 45% of import-dependent Turkey’s gas purchases last year, which hit a record level as a result of drought and a related rise in gas-driven power production.
Erdoğan also emphasized the importance of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant project, expressing hope that it will face no delays.
His remarks come after Russia’s state nuclear energy company Rosatom last week terminated a deal with Turkish firm IC Içtaş and signed an agreement with TSM Enerji to handle the remaining construction work at the plant in southern Turkey.
Erdoğan stressed that it was important that the Akkuyu nuclear plant was completed on time.
The plant is expected to provide up to 10% of Turkey’s energy needs and will continue to be operated and managed by Rosatom for several decades.
Rosatom said on Friday the contract with IC Içtaş was terminated over “numerous violations” in the construction of the $20 billion plant.
“During the execution of the contract, IC Içtaş committed numerous violations affecting the quality and timing of work,” Rosatom said in a statement. “For this reason, the project management decided to terminate the contract.”
IC Içtaş on Monday called the move unlawful and said it had launched a legal challenge to the deal’s termination, which it said would lead to delays in completing a project vital to Turkey’s energy supply needs.
It accused Rosatom of attempting to “reduce Turkish corporate presence” on the project.
Rosatom described TSM as a Turkish company. According to the Turkish trade registry, it is owned by three Russia-based companies.
Rosatom head Alexei Likhachev said in the statement Friday that the number of Turkish companies involved in the project will increase and that more than 80% of some 25,000 people currently working at the Akkuyu site were Turks.
On Wednesday, the Turkish energy ministry said it was seeking to resolve the dispute between the parties involved in building the Akkuyu plant.