Turkey-Russia Talks To Focus On Energy, Caucasus

ANKARA (Reuters)–Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Turkey on Tuesday to broach relations in the volatile South Caucasus region and seal several energy deals.

On his first official visit to Turkey, Medvedev was due to attend a dinner with President Abdullah Gul after arriving from Syria, and meet Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday.

Seeking to balance off its West-facing foreign policy, Turkey has strengthened relations with Russia and other former Soviet republics as well as fellow Muslim nations in the Middle East over past years.

Speaking ahead of Medvedev’s arrival, Russian officials have said state energy companies Gazprom and Rosneft were expected to sign contracts during the visit. No further details were available.

Russia already provides 60 percent of Turkey’s gas needs which has raised concerns of Turkey becoming over-dependent on Russian energy. Officials said they also hoped to agree on a deal for a Russian firm to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. Deals on shipping oil products from the Black Sea and ferry transport were also expected among some 25 agreements due to be signed.

Major progress on proposed cross-border pipeline projects, including the Moscow-backed Southstream gas pipeline, were less likely because of their complexities, Turkish officials said.

Bringing greater stability to the South Caucasus will be also on the agenda. The mountainous region, that fell firmly under Moscow’s influence following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, is riddled with old enmities.

“Russia and Turkey are both very important countries of the region. Of course we have our differences,” a Turkish official said, confirming the topic would come up.

Last month, Armenia suspended ratification of the Turkey-Armenia protocols that would have resulted in an opening of its western border with Turkey, because Turkey sought to exploit the talks rapprochement to influence Armenia’s peace talks with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Turkey hopes to enlist Russia’s help to break the deadlock.

“We are traditionally interested in the development of mutually beneficial cooperation both with Armenia and Turkey,” a Russian official said.

Some Turkish analysts suspect Russia of playing a spoiling game in the South Caucasus to stop Armenia and Azerbaijan establishing economic links that could loosen ties to Moscow.

Progress on visa free travel was also expected during the visit. Last year, Russians were the second largest number of foreign tourists to Turkey.

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