Vladimir Putin has met Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for talks expected to focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine and that are being rumoured to include Kremlin efforts to circumvent western sanctions.
Putin welcomed the Turkish president to Sochi, a resort city on the Black Sea, by thanking him for his help in securing an international deal that resumed exports of grain from Ukraine that had been disrupted by the Kremlin war machine – as well as Russian foodstuffs and fertilisers – to world markets.
The deal ended a standoff that had threatened a global food crisis, as Ukraine and Russia are some of the world’s largest exporters of grain. Another three ships carrying almost 60,000 tonnes of grain between them departed Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Friday and are on their way to Britain, Ireland and Turkey respectively.
“This is a very pressing problem for many countries, first and foremost, the developing ones that are on the brink of big problems with food and fertiliser supply. The decisions made with your direct participation are very important for all these countries,” Putin told Erdoğan as their closed-door meetings began.
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 stakes in Turkish oil refineries, terminals and reservoirs in order to help disguise the origin of Russian oil exports ahead of a planned EU oil embargo. The newspaper also reported that Russia could seek correspondent accounts for large Russian banks to circumvent financial sanctions.
The Russian government did not confirm the report and there was no indication that Turkey would entertain the proposals, which would put the Nato member at considerable risk of secondary sanctions.
At least publicly, economic cooperation led the agenda at the talks. Putin noted that the TurkStream pipeline had continued operating “smoothly … in contrast to every other route supplying our hydrocarbons”. Erdoğan brought up plans for a nuclear power plant to be built with Russian help.
But the tensions between the two countries and their leaders remain considerable. Turkey is a member of Nato, has sold advanced weaponry such as Bayraktar drones to Ukraine, and is at odds with Russia over the future of Syria, where the Kremlin has backed Bashar al-Assad while Turkey has sought to gain influence in the country’s north.
There were other indications that the two leaders planned to discuss more than just their economic agenda. Before the meeting began, Russian journalists noted that Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader who has sent forces under his command to both Syria and Ukraine, was in attendance.
The two men are expected to speak behind closed doors over a late lunch. They are not expected to give a joint statement following the summit. The Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Novak is expected to address the press after the summit.