ANKARA (AP)–Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Turkey on Monday on a rare visit meant to boost trade and counter-terrorism cooperation between the two countries–which have been rivals since the time of the czars and sultans.
Putin arrived late Sunday on the first-ever official bilateral visit by a Russian leader–a record that reflects the troubled history between the nations.
"We are here to take courageous decisions," Putin said at a dinner with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on Sunday. "The visit will give the opportunity for both economic and trade relations between Russia and Turkey to open up to new horizons."
On Monday–Putin met with Sezer after visiting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s mausoleum–a shrine honoring the father of the modern Turkish Republic.
He was also scheduled to meet with Turkey’s prime minister and attend a business forum intended to increase trade between resource-rich Russia and Turkey–a key route for delivering oil and gas to Western markets.
The two-day visit is expected to produce six cooperation agreemen’s – on issues including defense–finance–and energy–and a largely symbolic friendship and partnership declaration.
Repeated wars between the Ottoman Empire and Czarist Russia gave way to a cold peace after the collapse of both empires–with Turkey looming as NATO’s easternmost Soviet-era outpost. The nations later fought for influence in Turkic states that gained independence in the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Today–both governmen’s are playing up the promise of economic cooperation. Compared with the first half of 2003–bilateral trade rose by 60 percent in the first half of 2004–reaching $4.6 billion–according to Russia. It may exceed $10 billion for the year.
A recently built pipeline carries Russian natural gas beneath the Black Sea to Turkey–which relies on Russia for some two-thirds of its gas. Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom is interested in projects for gas storage and more extensive distribution in Turkey.
Turkish companies are active in Russia’s booming construction–retail–and brewing industries–while its Mediterranean resorts are a favorite among richer Russia’s–whose visits have fostered familiarity between the traditional foes.
But Turkey’s control over the Bosporus–the water route that connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean–has been a sore point. Turkey says increasing Russian oil tanker traffic through the strait is hazardous–while Russia’says delays cost its exporters hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
The touchy subject of terrorism was also likely to be high on the agenda. Russia has urged Turkey to crack down on charities it claims channel money and weapons to Chechen rebels. It also says numerous Turks have fought alongside the militants.
Many Turks trace their ancestry to Chechnya or elsewhere in what’s now Russia’s North Caucasus region–and many sympathize with fellow Muslims in Chechnya–where civilians have suffered gravely in nearly a decade of war pitting Russian forces against rebels.
About a dozen members of a pro-Chechen group laid a black wreath at the entrance of the Russian embassy Monday–shouting "Murderer Putin! Get out of Turkey!" Similar protests were held in Istanbul on Sunday.
But in an apparent gesture to Putin–who says Russia is battling international terrorism–Turkish authorities apprehended nine suspected Chechen militants and three pro-Chechen Turks last week. The Anatolia news agency reported on Sunday that police had linked them to al-Qaeda.
At Sunday’s dinner–Sezer said Turkey is determined to cooperate with Russia in the fight against terrorism.