Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Russia, Turkey hail flourishing neighbourhood ties

Agence France-Presse

MOSCOW (AFP) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday he welcomed diplomatic moves by historical rival Turkey in the two countries' Caucasus and Black Sea neighbourhood.

As Medvedev evoked a role for NATO member Turkey in ex-Soviet nations that abut both Russia and Turkey, a Russian official said Moscow and Ankara were close to making lucrative new energy deals.

"Our countries naturally want to strengthen security in the Caucasus region and to ensure proper security in the Black Sea. In this, we're fully in solidarity," Medvedev said during a visit by Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

Medvedev struck a defiant note on "outside powers" in the region, clearly referring to US support for Tbilisi in a war last summer between Georgia and Russia.

"The August crisis showed the importance of coordination by all countries of the region... and showed we can deal with such problems ourselves, without the involvement of outside powers," Medvedev said.

Russia remains fiercely protective of its role in the Caucasus nations that broke from Moscow in 1991 -- Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan -- and Medvedev in August described Moscow as the "guarantor" of the region's security.

Moscow's sense of entitlement has historically put Turkey and Russia at loggerheads.
But as Gul visited on Friday both countries emphasised cooperation, not least in Russian help with energy supplies to Turkey.

Medvedev said he welcomed an initiative put forward by Turkey during last year's Georgia war known as the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform.

The latter is part of a push by Turkey that includes improving relations with Armenia poisoned by differences over Ottoman-era massacres of Armenians.

Gul told Medvedev on Friday: "Russia and Turkey are neighbouring countries, which are developing their relations on the basis of mutual confidence."

Later at a meeting with former president Vladimir Putin, now the country's prime minister, Putin applauded the emergence of Russia as Turkey's number one trade partner.

Gul responded: "The author of those relations is you. You have done a great service in this."

On the sidelines of the talks in Moscow the two countries were working on new energy deals expected to increase Russia's role in Turkey, including a plan for Moscow to build a nuclear power station in Turkey.

Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said the two sides were nearing agreement on Russia winning the nuclear contract.

A consortium led by Russia's Atomstroixport partnership was the sole bidder in a tender launched in September to build a 4,800 megawatt nuclear power plant at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast.

"We expect our proposal will be forwarded by the tendering commission to the Turkish government in the near future," Shmatko told reporters.

"According to different estimates, such a project could be worth 18-20 billion dollars (14-15.5 billion euros)," he added.

Shmatko also said Russia and Turkey were discussing a long-term contract worth 60 billion dollars over a period of 15 years to supply Russian electricity to Turkey.

"The volume of supplies of electricity from Russia to Turkey could reach 60 billion dollars over 15 years," he said.

In practice Russian-Turkish energy cooperation has fallen short of Moscow's expectations.

The Blue Stream gas pipeline that supplies Russian gas to Turkey is now operating at well below the capacity envisaged by its planners, as Turkey eyes other energy sources such as Iraq and Central Asia.

Russia is Turkey's biggest trading partner and bilateral trade was worth 37.8 billion dollars last year.

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