Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet privately tomorrow with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku during Baku’s 2015 European Games. It’s the first time the leaders will meet after Erdogan criticised Putin’s remarks labelling the deaths of the Ottoman Armenians during the incidents of 1915 a “genocide.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, “We expect Russian and Turkish leaders will have significantly important meetings. Turkey is a prominent partner of Russia. The leaders will discuss many issues from the Syrian crisis to bilateral trade and economic relations,” speaking at a press conference in Moscow on Thursday.
“I’d like to remind you that there are arrangements for major energy projects between the countries,” he added.
Peskov did not refer directly to the Turkish Stream pipeline project, but both countries have been meticulously planning for the project since Russia relinquished its plans for the $40 billion South Stream pipeline project in December 2014 due to objections from the European Union (EU) on competition grounds.
The new Turkish Stream project is an alternative pipeline which is planned to bring gas to Europe through Turkey, bypassing Ukraine with an aim of delivering 63 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas per year - 47 bcm of it to Europe - by 2020.
Reuters has reported that Russian state-controlled company Gazprom planned to start laying 280 km of pipes along the Turkish coast beneath the Black Sea by the end of June.
“Gazprom hopes to create a gas hub at the Turkish-Greek border for transit to Europe, but depends on Turkey agreeing to build on its territory and needs EU countries - many of which want energy independence from Russia - to develop the required infrastructure,” the report added.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz confirmed the reports and said, "Once the information regarding the coordinates of the pipeline is received, the permits granted and the talks finalised, construction could begin by the end of the month," in an interview with Reuters.
"We are talking about partnership and ownership here. We need to set up the mechanism very carefully for this. We are looking to become a partner in the costs," Yildiz added.
Yildiz will be leaving his post following Turkey’s June 7 parliamentary elections.
Turkey is Gazprom’s second biggest export market after Germany and the country is looking to secure a 15 percent gas discount from Gazprom according to government sources.
Though Russia and Turkey have a cordial relationship in terms of the energy sector, there has been recently some tension regarding political differences over how to describe the incidents of 1915.
Putin did not attend Turkey’s commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli victory during World War I on April 24. Instead, Russian President attended commemoration of the Armenian deaths in Yerevan.
Putin described the incidents of 1915 as “a sorrowful date linked to one of the most tragic and dramatic events in the history of humanity – the genocide of the Armenian people,” according to the Kremlin’s official website at the time.
Erdogan condemned Putin’s statements, saying that "It's not the first time Russia has used the word genocide on this issue. I'm personally sad that Putin took such a step. What is happening in Ukraine and Crimea is evident. They should firstly explain these before calling what happened [in the Ottoman Empire] a genocide," speaking at a conference on April 27 in Ankara.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has also condemned Putin’s comments, saying that they expect Russia to consider its friendly ties with Turkey.
“Considering the mass massacres, exiles, collective punishments carried out by Russia for centuries in Caucasus, Central Asia and Eastern Europe as well as inhumane practices towards Turkic and Muslim minorities in its own history, Turkey believes Russia should be aware of the definition of ‘genocide’ and the legal issues that comes with it very well,” the statement said.
Erdogan rejected the Kremlin’s invitation to Russia’s Victory Day celebrations on May 9 marking the 70th anniversary of the triumph against Nazi Germany in 1945.
In response to the reactions towards Putin’s statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia hopes relations with Turkey will improve despite Putin’s words and visit to Armenia.
“Turkey is a strategic partner of Russia with which ties will potentially develop,” added Peskov.
Putin became the first world leader to call Erdogan in order to congratulate him on the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) success following the country’s critical June 7 election.
“The two leaders discussed the agenda topics of bilateral cooperation and the problems in implementing joint projects in the energy sector,” according to a statement released by the Kremlin press service.
The Russian and Turkish presidents will meet tomorrow morning in Baku.