President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
Today we held the sixth meeting of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. It was marked by a businesslike, constructive atmosphere.
During the narrow format meeting with the President, we discussed strategic aspects of the development of bilateral relations and Russian-Turkish interaction in the international arena to address pressing global and regional issues.
We also held talks with the participation of members of the two countries’ Governments responsible for defence and security, the economy, cultural and humanitarian issues and representatives of major businesses. As we traditionally do, we heard reports on the main areas of Russian-Turkish cooperation and approved the goals and objectives for future cooperation. A number of important bilateral interdepartmental and corporate documents were signed. Thus, we can state with confidence that our countries have returned to the path of true partnership, and multifaceted interaction.
I would like to emphasise that we regard Turkey as a very important partner, and we are interested in maintaining an intensive high-level political dialogue. This is my fourth meeting with the President in the past year.
It is also gratifying that the key bilateral mechanisms were recently re-established, primarily the joint strategic planning group, the intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation and the civil society forum. Contacts resumed between ministries, parliamentary groups, and regional authorities.
We regard Turkey as a very important partner, and we are interested in maintaining an intensive high-level political dialogue.
Turkey is traditionally among Russia’s main trade and economic partners. At the same time, last year, largely due to significant exchange rate fluctuations, as well as world energy prices, bilateral trade fell by 32 percent. Needless to say, neither Russia nor Turkey is happy with this situation. The wide-ranging cooperation programme for 2017–2020 that was signed today is aimed at stabilising the mutual flow of goods, services and capital. In addition, a decision was made to establish a new joint investment fund with a capital of up to $1 billion. You have just witnessed the signing of the corresponding document.
Naturally, energy is a priority area in our cooperation. Russia reliably supplies Turkey with energy sources. The Blue Stream gas pipeline has been stably operating for years. This year, Gazprom plans to move forward with the construction of another major energy route, the Turkish Stream. Two lines with a capacity of 15.75 billion cubic metres a year each will be laid across the Black Sea bed. The first will carry the fuel to Turkey’s domestic market and the second – provided our European partners are interested – will bring gas to Europe via Turkey.
The Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation is going ahead with building the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Turkey: four power units with an aggregate capacity of 4,800 MW. The project’s implementation opens up long-term prospects for Russian-Turkish cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. We expect Akkuyu to receive strategic investment status in the near future. To reiterate, both projects – Turkish Stream and the nuclear power plant – meet modern environmental and technological standards and will become major elements in ensuring energy security in the region.
The priority areas addressed today include the expansion of industrial and high-tech cooperation, primarily in heavy machine building, the auto industry, the chemical industry, construction and transport.
Ways of expanding [financial] settlements in national currencies were considered. We proposed to our partners creating infrastructure in Turkey for servicing Mir payment cards through the Turkish bank Denizbank, which is owned by Sberbank.
Opportunities for deepening bilateral ties in the humanitarian sphere were considered in depth. The bilateral Year of Culture and Tourism is slated for 2019. The relevant agencies were instructed to step up their efforts to ensure the safety of Russian tourists, who are again showing interest in vacationing at Turkish resorts.
While discussing topical international issues, considerable attention was given to the situation in the Middle East, in particular Syria. The parties spoke in favour of combining the efforts of the entire world community in the fight against terrorism. They noted that largely thanks to the active role of Russia and Turkey, it became possible not only to ensure the cessation of hostilities between Syrian government forces and the armed opposition but also to begin substantive talks, direct and concrete negotiations between the parties to the conflict in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
The ceasefire in Syria is generally holding thanks to the well-coordinated efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran. The level of violence has declined substantially. We agreed with our Turkish colleagues to continue our cooperation in fighting terrorist groups, above all ISIS, working together through our military and special services.
In conclusion, I would like once again to thank Mr Erdogan, all our Turkish colleagues and friends for these meaningful and substantive talks, as well as for the invitation to hold the next meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council in Turkey.
Energy is a priority area in our cooperation. Russia reliably supplies Turkey with energy sources.
I am convinced that the agreements reached today will foster mutually beneficial Russian-Turkish partnership in all areas.
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (retranslated): Thank you, Mr President.
Ladies and gentlemen, my sincere greetings to you.
First, I would like to use this opportunity to once again thank my friend, Mr Putin, personally and on behalf of my delegation, for the hospitality extended to us.
We set up the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council in 2010. Our goal was to ensure the institutionalisation of friendship and good neighbourly relations between our countries and to take them to a strategic level. We see that over the past seven years the Council has been successful in accomplishing these tasks. Every year we hold high-level discussions on various aspects of bilateral cooperation during the Council’s meetings and then we follow up with the implementation of the decisions taken through our foreign ministries. Apart from opening up new areas of cooperation, we work to broaden our ties.
The sixth session of the Council under our chairmanship has just finished. During the one-on-one talks, as well as negotiations involving delegation members, we paid special attention to issues of bilateral cooperation, summarised the results of our relations’ development since the Council’s last session, discussed problem areas that have remained in our relations and ways to resolve them. Both Turkey and Russia are determined to develop a profound, special cooperation between our countries.
Unfortunately, we lost a lot of time following an incident in late 2015 that was extremely regrettable for us. Despite this, the friendship between our countries demonstrated its ability to overcome trials, difficulties and provocations. Thanks to the joint steps taken in the previous months, we have managed to make substantial strides forward in normalising bilateral relations. In this regard, the talks we held with Mr Putin in St Petersburg on August 9, 2016, in Guangzhou on September 3, 2016 (at the G20 Summit in China), and in Istanbul on October 10, 2016 (the World Energy Congress), were extremely important. Additionally, we have actively engaged in a ‘telephone diplomacy’. Today’s session of the Council is another example of our close joint work.
At the same time, while acknowledging the achievements of the latest period, I am forced to say that the current result does not yet meet our expectations. I am sure that this session of the Council has finalised the normalisation of bilateral relations; therefore, we would like to abandon the use of this word. We hope to continue steps aimed at strengthening mutual trust and putting our economic cooperation and political agreements into practice.
In this regard, we expect Russia’s full removal of economic restrictions imposed on our country. This is the only way we will be able to achieve the previously announced goal of raising bilateral trade to the level of $100 billion. In previous years, we managed to increase the volume of mutual trade to $38 billion, but last year it dropped to $17 billion. Our goal is to make up these losses and reach the previous level.
We expect that this year we will be able to set a new record in our tourism cooperation. I would like to take the occasion to invite our Russian friends to Turkey to discover the tourist, historical and cultural diversity of our country.
We attach huge importance to using national currencies in bilateral trade. We revisited this issue once again today, and we have already given corresponding instructions to our central banks. Therefore, Russians will be able to carry out transactions in Turkey in rubles, and, similarly, Turkish nationals will be able to make payments in liras in Russia. I believe that this will help us lower the impact of the currency exchange rate on bilateral trade.
I am convinced that cooperation in implementing such projects as the construction of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant and the Turkish Stream gas pipeline will set an example for cooperation in other fields. The mid-term programme for 2017–2020 and other documents signed today demonstrate the determination and political will of our two countries’ leadership to develop relations. I hope that this will be further reflected in practice.
Another important step, as Mr President highlighted earlier, is the establishment of a joint investment fund with a capital of $1 billion. The documents we signed today and the decisions we adopted allow us to make up for lost time and will lay the groundwork for a major boost to our relations.
During the talks, we shared our views on regional issues. We discussed Syria, cooperation as part of the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, formation of a trilateral mechanism for consultations between Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey, and the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. For our part we stressed Russia’s key role in resolving a number of the region’s problems.
We once again raised the issue that Turkey, which shares a 911-kilometre long border with Syria, has for six years suffered from the threats generated by the conflict in that country. We stressed the need for solidarity in resolving this issue.
In addition, we indicated that Operation Euphrates Shield, which we initiated on August 24, 2016, dealt a major blow to ISIS. An area equalling some 2,200 square kilometres in Syria was totally cleared of terrorists. Thanks to Turkey’s efforts, we can now speak of the possibility of the total liquidation of this terrorist group.
I would like to underscore the issue of providing humanitarian aid to Syria’s population. I am certain that cooperation between Russia and Turkey in this area will help to ease the suffering of many Syrians. I can say that the Astana talks supplemented and supported the Geneva process of a Syrian conflict settlement and proved successful. This became possible largely due to the will demonstrated by Turkey and Russia.
Without doubt, a successful completion of talks in Geneva requires a serious approach from all parties, first and foremost from the Syrian regime. However, it is time to acknowledge that it is impossible to liquidate one terrorist group with the help of another one. Turkey is a country that has been battling terrorism for 35 years and now it faces a threat from such groups as ISIS, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Jabhat al-Nusra.
Syria’s territorial integrity and national unity must not be jeopardised. We will continue to search for a just resolution of the Syrian conflict in cooperation with Russia. Although we may not see eye-to-eye on various issues, we have so far kept cooperation channels open and are determined to continue to do so in the future. We see major advantages in this approach. We expect to continue our joint efforts based on mutual trust.
Of course, close cooperation between Turkey and Russia, based on mutual interests and aimed at promoting stability in the region and the world may irritate certain forces. However, we will not succumb to provocations and will not allow terrorist organisations to poison our relations.
I would like to once again honour the memory of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, who died in a heinous terrorist attack. I would like to offer my condolences to his widow, family and all Russians. Mr Karlov was a very successful diplomat, who, during his service in Turkey, worked selflessly to consolidate Turkish-Russian friendship. We will remember him as a dear friend of our country and our people.
In conclusion, I would like to once again thank my friend, President Vladimir Putin, for his hospitality and to say that I will be very glad to see him in Turkey during the upcoming meeting of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. I would also like to invite him to the World Petroleum Congress to be held in Istanbul in July 2017.
Thank you for your attention.
Question (retranslated): My question is addressed to both Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan. A question on Syria. A meeting of the Turkish and Russian chiefs of general staffs took place in Antalya. Turkey is very sensitive with regard to the PYD terrorist group. Is there any cooperation between the intelligence services and at what level? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: We have high praise for the level of cooperation achieved between the Russian and Turkish special services, between the military departments of both countries. It was only due to our cooperation, with the participation of our Iranian partners and friends, that we were able to bring about a ceasefire. In Astana, for the first time, the parties to the conflict sat at the same table for talks. This is a tangible result of our joint efforts.
Opportunities for deepening bilateral ties in the humanitarian sphere were considered in depth. The bilateral Year of Culture and Tourism is slated for 2019.
As for terrorist activity, Russia always strongly condemns any terrorist actions whatever the motives of the people who perpetrate those acts. This is our position of principle, and there is no and can be no change there.
We share information on the fight against terrorism. As I have said, our special services are working closely and we intend to expand this cooperation. We know how complex the situation in the region is, not only in Syria but also in other countries. This cannot but worry us; this is a source of global threats. There are also well-known problems related to the flow of migrants, which also seriously affects Turkey. We understand this and we will do all we can to address all such problems. We will work together, as I have repeatedly said, including at the UN. We can defeat terrorism only by joining forces.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Turkey and Russia are engaged in complex military cooperation on the Syrian issue. There is close interaction between the chiefs of staff, foreign ministers and intelligence agencies. We are resolved to broaden cooperation in providing humanitarian aid, which would be highly relevant in the current situation.
We have reached a number of agreements on the matter today. This issue falls outside the scope of counterterrorist efforts. Our decisive fight against terrorists, first and foremost, against ISIS, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), People’s Protection Units (YPG), Fethullah Gülen and Jabhat al-Nusra will continue. We must do this because we, leaders and politicians, are responsible for the destinies of the people living in this region. These are the positions we proceed from in our joint efforts.
Additionally, over our business lunch, we discussed the crash of the Eczacibasi helicopter, which took place today at 11.30 in Istanbul. It hit a TV tower in Buyukcekmece. Two pilots – Turkish citizens – as well as five passengers, four of them Russians, died in the crash. In this regard, I would like to extend my condolences to the families of the deceased, the President of Russia and the Russian delegation.
Question: You have touched on the situation in Syria and praised cooperation between the two countries, including their military departments, in fighting terrorism in Syria. What is the outlook for this cooperation and do you think the preservation of Syria’s territorial and political integrity is an indispensable precondition for the resolution of this conflict? And the same question concerning the political and territorial integrity of Iraq. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I have already assessed the nature and level of our cooperation. As for the prospects, frankly, the situation remains complicated; there are a lot of factors of uncertainty and there are a lot of disagreements in the region and the country we are now talking about, Syria. Therefore, I would express cautious optimism that by working together and bringing in other important players, including the United States, we will effectively help consolidate the ceasefire and, based on that, move forward with a comprehensive political settlement.
Largely thanks to the active role of Russia and Turkey, it became possible not only to ensure the cessation of hostilities between Syrian government forces and the armed opposition but also to begin substantive talks between the parties to the conflict in Astana.
Needless to say, for peace and calm to hold in the region and to ensure the restoration of Syria and other countries in the region, the principle of territorial integrity should be observed, and in this sense, the restoration of Syria’s territorial integrity is, in our view, in my view, an indispensable condition for a full-scale settlement in that country.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Preserving the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq is our top priority. We will not accept the division of these countries. We have deep historical, cultural and family ties with each of these countries.
Following last years’ events, around three million Syrians found themselves in our country. We took them in. In addition, we accepted about 300,000 Iraqis. We have already spent more than $25 billion on this. At the same time, we do not consider this aid sufficient since people in these countries face threats all the time.
However, the Astana talks made it possible to cease the hostilities. A large-scale evacuation was carried out from Aleppo. Due to cooperation between Russia and Turkey, people were moved from Aleppo to the area of Idlib. However, they face threats there as well, which forces us to deal with the issue further. We do not want this situation to continue.
Our goal is make it possible for the people who fled from Jerablus, Al-Rai, Dabiq and al-Bab to return home. In addition, there is the situation in Manbij. In cooperation with Russia and the international coalition forces we would like to liberate it from the occupation by terrorists and ensure the return of the local people to this city.
After that, our main objective will be Raqqa, where ISIS forces are concentrated. According to our intelligence agencies, there are about 3,000 ISIS members in that area. As for Iraq, the coalition forces are also carrying out their assault on ISIS, primarily in Mosul. With every passing day, ISIS forces are losing ground and the city’s residents are starting to return.
Our compatriots, Turkomen, reside in the city of Tal Afar. They were previously threatened by the Hasdi Sabi organisation. Now the threat is gone to a large extent. Unfortunately, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party has had a presence in Sinjar. Now this region is being gradually liberated from it.
Therefore, our main goal is to clear the region from terrorists and ensure the return of the local people to their homes.
Question: Good evening, I would like to address Mr Putin in Russian.
A ban on employing Turkish citizens and restrictions on Turkish companies are still in effect in Russia. Could you say exactly when these restrictions will be lifted? Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: The President has raised this issue today, including with regard to Turkish construction workers who are subject to a visa ban, a ban on work visas. Today, the President and I agreed that this ban would be lifted. This will happen in the very near future. After our agreement today, it is a purely technical matter.
We agreed with our Turkish colleagues to continue our cooperation in fighting terrorist groups, above all ISIS, working together through our military and special services.
As for other matters related to liberalisation, we will continue to work on them. Cooperation between our special services is very important here in order to ensure security in screening out persons who are undesirable in both countries.
Question: My question is for both you, Mr Putin, and your counterpart, Mr Erdogan.
Vacation season, the tourist season is drawing near. On this subject, an aspect like security cannot possibly be ignored. If I understood you correctly, this topic was addressed during your talks. It is important to understand whether Turkey can guarantee the safety of our citizens. Can we be sure that nothing will happen to Russian tourists in Turkey? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: The flow of tourists from Russia to Turkey is a significant factor in the Turkish economy. However, for us Russians, for Russia, in recent years, it has also been an important aspect of our life. Hundreds of thousands, millions of people, Russian citizens have vacationed in Turkey and found it very agreeable and friendly. We all know this. I often vacationed in Turkey myself, before I worked here in Moscow, in the Kremlin. And I have only the best feelings and memories about those holidays.
However, now we will not go into the reasons and causes of the decline in this flow again. It is recovering now. We see and we know that Turkey is dealing with terrorist attacks and the Turkish people are affected by terrorist attacks. We sympathise; we share the pain of their losses and we strongly condemn any terrorist actions.
Russia always strongly condemns any terrorist actions. This is our position of principle, and there is no and can be no change there.
At the same time, we see that the Turkish authorities are doing their utmost to ensure the safety of tourists, including Russian tourists, at Turkish resorts. We very much hope that these efforts will continue and all the necessary conditions for the safety of Russian tourists will be ensured.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: I would like to primarily thank Mr President for the good news that Turkish businessmen and contractors will be once again granted access to the Russian market, so that they can resume their activity with their previous enthusiasm. We discussed this during the talks today.
As for tourism, the life and health of each tourist, no matter if he or she is from Russia or any other country, are as important for us as the lives and health of our citizens. This is why all the relevant agencies are doing everything in their power to ensure their security. Besides, you know that hospitality is in our national character. We hosted and will continue hosting foreign guests at the highest level.
Russia was a leader in the number of tourists visiting our country in the past years. I hope that we will once again be able to attain the previous results and show our hospitality to the Russian people.
Thank you for your attention.