By Denis Pinchuk
MOSCOW, July 26 – Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan next month for the first time in almost a year, a sign that a rapprochement between the two nations is gathering pace.
Russian trade sanctions imposed on Ankara over the Turkish shooting down of a Russian jet near the Syrian border last November remain in place, and Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said on Tuesday they were unlikely to be lifted before the two leaders met.
Ulyukayev was speaking as senior officials from the two nations, including Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, met in Moscow to lay the ground for a gradual thaw in ties.
The Kremlin and the Turkish government said Putin and Erdogan would meet on Aug. 9 in the Russian leader’s home town of St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.
The shooting down of the Russian fighter jet, which was taking part in the Kremlin’s campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, prompted Moscow to impose sanctions on Ankara to hurt its tourism and construction sectors.
It also banned Turkish food imports.
“The agenda has not been discussed yet … but beyond all doubt, there is much to talk about,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters, referring to the planned Putin-Erdogan meeting.
“This will be the first meeting after that collapse in our relations, the first one after the leaders of the two nations turned over that page,” Peskov said. “Therefore, it’s possible to say with confidence they won’t lack topics for discussion.”
Erdogan faced the biggest challenge to his rule this month when he defeated a coup staged by his own military. He is now trying to consolidate his power by purging the army and security structures.
Turkey has thanked Russia for its solid support of its legitimate government during the abortive putsch.
Mehmet Simsek, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, said his visit and that of other officials was part of an ongoing attempt to try to mend ties with Moscow.
“We are here to improve our relations and to bring them to an even higher level than before Nov. 24,” Simsek said at the start of a meeting on Tuesday with his Russian counterpart Arkady Dvorkovich.
Russian and Turkish officials discussed the possible lifting of the food import ban, Dvorkovich told reporters. Officials would later also discuss whether it was realistic to restart the shelved TurkStream project, which aims to build a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey.
Dvorkovich said the resumption of charter flights between the two countries “will take some time”.
He said construction of the planned Akkuyu nuclear power plant project in Turkey was also on the agenda.
“We plan to be able to move forward pretty fast,” he said, giving no further details.