President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
Mr Erdogan and I met fairly recently in Moscow, on March 10, and held a successful meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council.
These talks in Sochi are a good opportunity to provide a joint assessment of progress in implementing the March decisions, to outline new goals for joint work for the future, and to exchange views on key international and regional issues.
Turkey is an important and promising partner of Russia. Some time ago, the durability of our bilateral relations, as we know, was tested. Now, we can state confidently that the recovery period in Russia-Turkey ties is over, and we are returning to normal cooperation between partners.
Notably, our countries are firmly committed to further strengthening cooperation across many areas in accordance with the spirit and the letter of the treaty on the foundations of bilateral relations, which will turn 25 in late May.
At our talks today, first in narrow format, then with government members and the heads of our big energy companies present, we examined in detail implementation of our bilateral cooperation programme for 2017–2020. We concentrated particularly on economic cooperation and removing the barriers and limitations hindering expansion of trade and investment exchanges, and looked at the possibility of carrying out mutual settlements in our national currencies.
The intergovernmental commission is working hard on these urgent matters, as are the two deputy prime ministers, one from each government, tasked with this work.
It is important that we have succeeded in checking the fall in bilateral trade and we noted a slight increase of around 3 percent during the first months of this year.
Our reciprocal investment figures are at a good level, with $10 billion on each side. We agreed to accelerate preparation of the agreement on services and investment, which will enable us to set our further cooperation in this area on a modern legal base and will enable us to soon complete the establishment and begin operation of a joint investment fund with capital of up to $1 billion.
Of course, we spoke in depth about energy sector cooperation, which has truly strategic importance for both countries. I remind you that Russia meets more than 55 percent of Turkey’s gas needs, 33 percent of its coal, and 18 percent of its oil needs.
We continue our joint work on building the new gas pipeline Turkish Stream. This ambitious project will see us lay two branches of the pipeline across the Black Sea bed. Each branch will be able to transport 15.7 billion cubic metres of gas, one to Turkey, and the other in transit to Europe.
This project’s implementation will significantly boost Turkey’s and Europe’s energy security and will expand Russia’s gas export possibilities.
We discussed another of our big joint projects too, namely, the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, in which Russia is investing a total of $22 billion.
We exchanged views on prospects for deepening our bilateral ties in the humanitarian sector. In 2019, we will hold reciprocal culture and tourism years. The practical preparations for these events are already underway.
A third of Russians taking breaks abroad over this May holiday period have chosen Turkey as their destination. Guaranteeing reliable safety for our citizens at Turkish resorts is therefore extremely important.
Russia’s relevant agencies are ready to provide all possible assistance to Turkey’s intelligence services in these matters. Cooperation between our relevant services is developing.
During our exchange of views on the global and regional agendas, we gave much attention to the fight against international terrorism. We agreed to strengthen our cooperation in this area through our intelligence services and defence ministries. In particular, they will continue the practice of holding regular interagency consultations on counterterrorism work.
We discussed in detail the situation in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, of course. Mr Erdogan and I both share the same view that only political and diplomatic means can bring a solution to the Syrian conflict. I remind you that it was in large part thanks to the active efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran that we not only achieved a ceasefire between Syrian government forces and the armed opposition, but got them to sit down at the negotiating table in Astana, where a fourth round of consultations is beginning today.
We also discussed preparations for the 25th anniversary summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation, which will take place on May 22 in Istanbul. This regional cooperation format is very useful and Russia will certainly ensure it is represented at worthy level at this event.
Let me conclude by thanking President Erdogan and all of our Turkish colleagues and friends for this direct and constructive discussion. I am sure that today’s talks will give new impetus to developing our strategic cooperation on the basis of partnership and good-neighbourly relations.
Thank you for your attention.
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (retranslated): My dear friend, ladies and gentlemen,
Heartfelt greetings to you all.
This is my second visit to the Russian Federation in the past two months. First, I would like to express my thanks to President Putin and our Russian friends for the hospitality extended to my delegation and me personally.
This is my fifth meeting with Mr Putin since August 2016. We often talk on the phone. Thanks to all these meetings, we managed to achieve the desired outcome. Both sides have shown strong will to improve our relations. The reasonable approaches taken by the leadership of the two countries have played an important role in this respect, to be sure.
Today, we held consultations on economic, trade and other issues.
On March 10, we held the sixth meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council in Moscow. During our meeting today, we again reviewed our decisions and steps. Our economic teams often meet in Moscow and Ankara. They are making significant efforts to remove obstacles on the way to advancing trade and economic relations. I believe that we will see the results of these efforts in the coming days. Cooperation on the Turkish Stream and Akkuyu projects continues as scheduled.
During our meeting today, Mr Putin and I discussed regional issues, primarily, the Syrian crisis. There is a Russian proverb that I like a lot: ”All men speak of their own ills.“ True, for both our countries, Syria has been a deep bleeding wound over the past six years. At a time when children in other countries are playing and enjoying the arrival of spring and sunny days, Syrian children face death every day. This is a grief shared by us all.
The length of our border with Syria is 911 kilometres. We're all cut from the same cloth. How can we remain indifferent to children crying in a neighbouring country? How can we turn a blind eye to the killing of children, women, and the elderly with chemical weapons? We have provided shelter to about 3 million Syrian refugees in our country, who are doing their best to survive. Of course, we will talk about Syria, and we will hold meetings to overcome this crisis. We will heed the cries and screams of the innocent, and we will work towards resolving this issue.
My dear friend Vladimir Putin sincerely expressed his desire to put an end to this drama as well. He has personally put in a lot of effort, and I believe that he will continue to do so in the future in order to end the hostilities.
Turkey, Russia and Iran are the guarantor countries for maintaining the ceasefire, and as such, we must be very sensitive in our approach to this issue. We must seize every possible opportunity to reinforce the ceasefire. Some out there are spending their energy on sabotaging this process, however. We are very much aware of what they are doing to destroy the growing seeds of hope. The chemical attack at Khan Sheikhun was a clear illustration of this. This barbaric attack must not go unpunished.
Today, President Putin and I reached the important agreement that those responsible for this attack must be punished. All attacks seeking to violate the ceasefire not only exacerbate the situation, but undermine the guarantor countries’ efforts. We are working together with Russia on all of these matters. I have no doubt that only a political process can settle the Syrian crisis and end the bloodshed there. Syria’s territorial integrity and political integrity are our priority.
As long as Syria remains the stage for proxy war, terrorist organisations will continue to flourish. In this context, the fight against all terrorist organisations in Syria is crucial for the country’s future, for its people’s survival, and for peace in the world.
We never drew distinctions between terrorist organisations, whether YPG, ISIS or Al-Qaeda, they are all the same to us. They all feed on blood, chaos and tears. It is our common responsibility to eradicate these terrorist organisations. We will not accept the emergence of hostile organisations on our southern borders, from where they will threaten our territorial integrity and security. As we have done so until now, we will continue to take all steps necessary to ensure our citizens’ security.
Let me take this opportunity to express my condolences following the death of Russian citizens in the terrorist attack in April. Such treacherous acts are further evidence that terror knows no borders and recognises no principles.
I have always said that there is no difference between terrorist attacks in Moscow, Istanbul, Brussels, Kabul or Paris. There is no difference between all of these acts of terrorism. Terrorist organisations are humanity’s common enemy, regardless of their name or ideology. Let me say again that we stand together with our Russian friends in fighting terrorist organisations. I want to express my sympathy too over the accident on the ship carrying Russian military personnel in the Black Sea. As soon as we heard the news of this accident, we did everything possible to provide assistance. It is a consolation that there were no fatalities.
I want to thank Mr Putin for his kind invitation, and I invite him to attend the 25th anniversary summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation, which will take place in Istanbul on May 22.
I hope that our consultations and the decisions reached will benefit our countries, the region, and all of humanity.
Thank you very much.
Question (retranslated): I have a question about resolving the Syrian crisis and creating safe zones in Syria. Did the two leaders discuss this issue and, if so, did they reach an agreement?
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: There is a new initiative in this regard. As you may be aware, from the very outset, I have been using the term ”safe zone“. I will continue to use it. However, a new term – ”de-escalation zone“ – has gained currency recently. As you may be aware, refugees from Aleppo have found shelter in the province of Idlib. Unfortunately, problems occasionally emerge in Idlib. A ”green zone“, that is, a ”de-escalation zone“ has been created there. We hope that the de-escalation zone will be preserved.
This is critical for the Astana process. I hope that the decision on the de-escalation zone will be adopted and acted upon to further resolve this issue.
Vladimir Putin: The President and I operate on the premise – I already mentioned this – that the Syrian crisis can be resolved exclusively by political means. However, to set this political process in motion it is necessary to ensure a ceasefire. As the countries that made the greatest contribution to this formula and the practical side of ending hostilities, Russia, Turkey, and Iran have never stopped thinking about ways to bolster the ceasefire.
One way to do so is to create safe zones, or de-escalation zones, as the President just said. We have heard the US President mention de-escalation zones as well. Yesterday, I discussed this issue on the phone with Mr Trump. As far as I understand, the US administration is supportive of these ideas. Earlier, Russia held consultations with Damascus and Tehran, and we believe that we need to work toward creating mechanisms that would guarantee an end to the bloodshed and create conditions for starting a political dialogue. In this sense, I am on the same page with the President of Turkey. We proceed from the premise that the participants in the conflict who gathered in Astana today will make the final decision, because, ultimately, the future of their country depends on them. As guarantors of the ceasefire, Turkey, Iran, and Russia will do their best to ensure that these mechanisms get better and are effective. We will support this proposal.
Question: A question for both presidents.
I would like to know when it will be possible to speak of the full restoration of the previous level of trade cooperation between Russia and Turkey, where it was before the crisis, before the conflict over the incident with our aircraft. As we know, some of the restrictions introduced after this incident have not yet been lifted. This applies to certain types of agricultural products exported from Turkey to Russia, especially tomatoes. Russian producers of this product are somewhat concerned. If Turkish tomatoes reappear on our market again, this will mean they will have to reduce their own production, as Turkish tomatoes are cheaper.
But Turkey, as we see, introduces certain protective duties with regard to Russian wheat, corn and sunflower oil. How can this issue be resolved? In general, I would like to know how you see the trade and economic partnership in the distant, distant future and what trade volumes will be like over the long term.
Vladimir Putin: You asked when it will be possible to say that the restrictions that arose some time ago have been lifted. This can be said today. We agreed on a comprehensive solution to all problems related to the restrictions. We proceed from the premise that any restrictions destroy the economy and ultimately harm our producers.
You raised some sensitive things. For example, tomatoes are not the only product that has been subject to restrictions. Restrictions were imposed on a lot of services and other goods, including textiles, services, labour, and construction. There were a lot of restrictions. We agreed to lift all these restrictions.
But we asked our Turkish partners and friends to understand that after the well-known tragic events, when these restrictions were introduced, life went on and did not stand still. This includes the production of tomatoes, which you mentioned. Our agricultural producers took out sizable loans, credit resources. It’s a fairly long production cycle due – in our climatic conditions – to the construction of greenhouses and so on.
Therefore, for this type of goods, the restrictions will remain in force, as well as for visa-free travel, which is due to the need to strengthen interaction between our special services in the face of the growing terrorist threat. This is nevertheless a problem that can look much less severe than it looks now. I mean that it is possible – and we will do this – to liberalise travel by specialists and people who constantly visit our country on business. Many Turkish nationals will be afforded liberalised terms; our colleagues agreed that the relevant lists will be verified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As for these commodity groups, including tomatoes, of course, we cannot close and do not plan to close our market forever for all imports, including imports of tomatoes. As this investment cycle, which I mentioned, passes, this part of our market will also be liberalised. In general, we believe that all other restrictions should be lifted. We agreed to this today.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: And today during our meeting, we came to an agreement on all issues, except for tomatoes. Undoubtedly, we want Turkish tomatoes on the Russian market, because they are tasty and cheap. And this is advice for our partners. But since it is temporary, as the dear President said, maybe we can find more suitable options, temporary options and discuss the matter on a new basis.
Our colleagues have done a very good job. And while there were a few questions about tomatoes, we agreed on the remaining issues. And I must say that we are already past the period of normalisation of relations, this period has already come to an end, we have passed through it.
Question: Mr Putin, my question mostly concerns you, so I will ask it in Russian. You have answered it partly, but I will ask it anyway.
When you were opening the meeting today, you said that our relations with Turkey have returned to full scale, and you repeated these words just now. However, you promised on April 10 that visa restrictions will be lifted quite soon for Turkish businessmen, who will receive working visas. A Russian businessman took out a loan for tomatoes while a Turkish businessman took out a loan some time ago to do business with Russia. Considering this, you said on April 10 that the restrictions will be cancelled quite soon. Can we say now explicitly that this day has come?
Vladimir Putin: We always say things explicitly, we don’t speak any other way.
The restrictions were imposed as the result of the tragedy with our pilot. You know about it, and we all regret it. We see Turkey regret it as well. But it happened, and the restrictions appeared. After that, we introduced certain restrictions in the economy, including agriculture. Our producers have taken out loans, now they must pay off these loans and pay back the bank. There is a specific cycle related to time (to repay the loans) and the selling of products. The President was right to say that Turkish tomatoes are indeed a bit cheaper, and we are interested in our consumers having access to products at lower prices. But we are also interested in the development of the Russian agricultural sector, and the people who have received loans under Government guarantees should not wind up broke. As we made clear today, the cycle will finish someday, and we will announce it. This is easy to calculate.
There are also periods during the year when we cannot meet our market demand with domestic production and so we import some share of goods, tomatoes among them. As we have agreed today, our Turkish partners and friends also should not be discriminated against, considering that we have certain seasonal imports. They will work on our market as all exporters to our country do.
I have also spoken about visas quite explicitly. We should improve the interaction of our special services in connection with the terrorist threat. We realise, however, that there are categories of Turkish citizens who visit Russia regularly on business. We are willing to create for them a special arrangement that is more liberal than for all the other visitors to Russia. To do this, our Foreign Ministries must work on it and exchange relevant lists. We are prepared to accept this solution.
Question: I would like to know more about creating safe zones in Syria. Whose idea was it, who supported it, who will coordinate the activities in these zones and how? Does this mean that they will be no-fly zones? Won’t creating such zones lead to the violation of the territorial integrity of that country? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: We discussed this in detail with the President today. We both proceed from the assumption – and we share this position – that creating safe zones should lead to further pacification and consolidate the ceasefire. The absence of bloodshed is the most important prerequisite for starting a political dialogue between the warring sides.
Ultimately, this political process should lead to the complete restoration of the territorial integrity of that country and ensure unified national leadership. Regardless of the views that certain political forces may profess today, they must unite in the interest of the Syrian people. It is up to the Syrian people and the warring sides to decide on what grounds and platform, and in what ways they are going to do so. We hope that these solutions will be found during the negotiation process.
With regard to terrorists, our fight against terrorism will continue despite the creation of such zones. We will continue to fight organisations such as ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the like that are on the UN-approved list of terrorist organisations. Monitoring compliance with the corresponding arrangements in these circumstances is a matter for separate talks.
Who came up with this idea? I believe it came up during the discussion of all these subtle issues with our partners in Turkey, Iran, and Syria itself. As I mentioned earlier, we heard similar proposals from the United States as well. The name – safe zone or de-escalation zone – does not really matter. What matters is that the arrangements we agree upon are complied with. It is likewise important to agree on ways to monitor compliance with these agreements.
With regard to a no-fly zone, if this is a de-escalation zone, then aircraft will not operate there either, provided that these zones show no sign of military activity. These are all subtle professional issues. Our respective defence ministries and special services keep in touch with each other and are in charge of developing these arrangements.