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Erdogan and Putin discuss grain corridor, gas deal and Syria

December 11, 2022

The two leaders spoke over the phone in a further sign of their increasing closeness. Turkey has tried to remain a middleman amid tensions between Russia and NATO.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) during their meeting on the sidelines of a summit in October
Erdogan is one of the NATO leaders with whom President Putin has had the most contact since the invasion beganImage: Vyacheslv Prokofyev/EPA-EFE

The Turkish and Russian leaders held a phone call on Sunday in which they discussed several key areas of cooperation that increasingly put Turkey at odds with its NATO allies.

A statement from the Turkish presidency said that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had "addressed the Turkey-Russia relations, particularly in energy as well as grain corridor and regional issues, including the fight against terror."

Black Sea gain corridor expansion

According to Erdogan's office, the Turkish president told the Russian leader that the two sides could expand the grain corridor across the Black Sea to start including further Russian commodities such as fertilizer and agricultural products.

The corridor was set up with the support of Turkey and the UN to allow for the export of foodstuffs from Ukraine that were stuck behind a Russian blockade.

Soaring food prices had been the primary incentive to find a solution. But the export of Russian goods is still hampered by Western sanctions, which Moscow says is against the original agreement.

"The deal is of complex character, which requires the removal of obstacles for the relevant supplies from Russia in order to meet the demands of the countries most in need," the Kremlin said in a statement on Sunday.

DW Istanbul correspondent Julia Hahn on Erdogan-Putin talks

Although a member of the NATO alliance that has thrown its weight behind defending Ukraine, Ankara has taken up the role of the mediator between Moscow and Kyiv.

Nevertheless, Erdogan has continued to express "his sincere wish for the termination of the Russia-Ukraine war as soon as possible."

Exporting Russian gas to Turkey

The two leaders also discussed establishing a base in Turkey for the export of Russian gas in an attempt to make up for its lost European customers.

Erdogan has supported the idea, which Putin proposed in October. Alexey Miller, the head of Russia's state-run energy company Gazprom, was in Istanbul last week to hold talks.

"The special importance of joint energy projects, primarily in the gas industry, was emphasized," the Kremlin said after the phone call.

European countries, including Germany, had been Russia's biggest customers. But the fallout over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine has led to a massive drop in Russia's exports to the west.

Erdogan demands support for ambitions in Syria

The Turkish president also called on Putin to support his planned 30-kilometer (19-mile) "security" corridor along Turkey's border with Syria, an area populated — and for several years now controlled — by Kurds.

A statement from the president's office pointed to the 2019 agreement between Russia and Turkey to set up a zone under Syrian and Russian control.

Erdogan's insistence comes as Turkey renews its shelling of positions of Kurdish militant groups such as the People's Protection Units (YPG). The Turkish strikes came after a terror attack in Istanbul that Ankara has pinned on Kurdish militants within Turkey.

Threats from Turkey to invade Syria with a ground offensive earlier in the year — for the second time during the conflict there — were rebuffed by Russia and the US, the latter of which has been working with Kurdish groups to fight extremist militants such as the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Is Erdogan trying to blackmail the West?

ab/fb (dpa, AP, Reuters)