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Putin, Erdogan to hold first face-to-face talks since onset of pandemic

The Kremlin's press service said that Putin and Erdogan were going to discuss trade, economic cooperation and developments in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan as well as in the Caucasus
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin Mikhail Metzel/TASS
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

SOCHI, September 29. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday will hold talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who will pay a one-day working visit to Sochi. The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in quite a few changes to the regular contacts between the leaders of both countries. From March 2019 to March 2020, Putin and Erdogan held ten meetings. The forthcoming talks will be the first after a long break.

Despite the pause in their face-to-face meetings, the two presidents kept in touch. They held regular telephone conversations and this past March, they participated in a special online ceremony heralding the launch of a project to build a third reactor at the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in the Mersin Province of Turkey.

The Kremlin's press service said that Putin and Erdogan were going to discuss trade, economic cooperation and developments in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan as well as in the Caucasus.

Erdogan is pinning serious expectations on the coming talks with Putin in Sochi. He said that Ankara would like to bring its relations with Moscow to a qualitatively new level and achieve a trade turnover of $100 billion.

Scope of work

The leaders reached the current, high-level meeting with a rather extensive number of issues to discuss. The Syrian settlement, the traditional area of cooperation between Moscow and Ankara, needs to be thoroughly looked into, particularly the special agreement on Turkey’s countering terrorist groups in the Idlib de-escalation zone. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed to this topic as one of the most important on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. "The issue of how this obligation is implemented will be considered in detail. It is clear that it is being implemented slowly," the top diplomat said.

The Turkish president is also pinning high hopes on the upcoming meeting to constructively hash over the issue of Syria. "Not only will we discuss Idlib, but also the situation in Syria in general: what we achieved and how to move forward. We will also make important decisions regarding our bilateral relations," Erdogan told Turkish reporters during his US visit.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier said that the presidents will also focus on Russian-Turkish relations where "there are a lot of common things to do in bilateral relations as well as work on joint projects in economic and trade ties." "Both countries’ companies are interested in this. Therefore, the presidents will keep on discussing it," the spokesman said.

Afghanistan will also be touched upon at the talks, after the country was taken over by the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) in August. Despite the fact that not a single country around the world has recognized the new regime in Afghanistan, Russia and Turkey are on the narrow list of states that regularly engage in contacts with the movement.

When speaking at the joint meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Putin underlined that the region is interested in Afghanistan "succeeding as an independent, neutral, united and democratic state that is free of terrorism, war, drugs and that lives in peace and harmony with its neighbors."

At the same time, Moscow and Ankara note that the government formed by the Taliban recently is not inclusive. In particular, Lavrov told a press conference following his UNGA session visit that the new cabinet "does not reflect the entire spectrum of Afghan society."

One of the most sensitive issues regarding Russian-Turkish economic cooperation is Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile systems. Ahead of his Sochi visit, Erdogan told journalists that he rejects any foreign pressure on this topic and intends to continue purchasing these missile systems from Moscow. The leaders are likely to discuss this matter as well.

Russia’s recent legislative elections also create an important context for the meeting. Once the voting ended, the Turkish Foreign Ministry refused to recognize Crimea’s election results since Ankara views the peninsula’s reunification with Russia as illegitimate. "We believe it is important to maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, this includes the annexation of Crimea, which we do not recognize," the Turkish leader told the UNGA session.

The Kremlin then responded to Erdogan’s remark, saying that it left an "unpleasant impression." "Nevertheless, in no way does it eliminate prospects of holding a successful, substantial and constructive working visit of President Erdogan to Russia," Peskov concluded.

Russian experts weigh in on Sochi-hosted meeting

Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov believes that Putin and Erdogan may touch upon Turkey's military-technical cooperation with Ukraine, in particular, the supply of drones that can be used in Donbass. As far as Erdogan's latest remarks about Crimea in the run-up to his Russia visit are concerned, "frustration may be caused merely by his insistence on repeating this stance over and over again," the expert noted.

Kortunov believes that Russia is concerned about Turkey's commitment to de-radicalizing Idlib, because militants "in fact control the territory of this province." As for Ankara, certain fears do exist that Syrian President Bashar Assad may resume an offensive against Idlib with Russian support. The top RIAC expert predicts that no breakthrough decisions should be expected from this meeting, and suggested that the conversation between both leaders wouldn’t be simple.

"There will be great progress, if they manage to come to terms on some future for this region and prevent the actual dismembering of Syria. If such fears vanish at the meeting, it will be quite an achievement," Kortunov predicted.

Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, Fyodor Lukyanov, emphasized that given the escalation of tensions in Idlib and the divergence of interests, the chances of expecting a comprehensive settlement to the Idlib crisis at the negotiations are slim.

"The parties must find a new way to reach a balance of interests. Perhaps, based on a different configuration, in contrast to what was in the past on such matters as who controls what. However, I have serious doubts something can be settled now. It looks impossible," Lukyanov said.

Experts interviewed by TASS look forward to a broad agenda for the forthcoming talks, but agree that the Idlib de-escalation issue will take the spotlight. Putin and Erdogan, analysts say, may discuss the conditions where the Taliban government might be recognized diplomatically, and also joint efforts in the struggle against the terrorist threat in Afghanistan.