Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to break his country’s dependence on Russian energy imports, and sought to downplay the impact of Russian trade sanctions, in a televised speech Saturday. However, he added that diplomatic tensions and sanctions would not affect Turkey's ongoing energy projects with Russia.
Moscow imposed several trade sanctions against Turkey, including freezing work on joint ventures and food imports, after Turkey's air force shot down a Russian fighter plane near the Syrian border on Nov. 24. Russia is Turkey’s single largest energy supplier, accounting for more than half of its gas imports and 10 percent of its oil. Moscow also has a $20 billion contract to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in the town of Akkuyu.
"There is no sign yet that the problems with Russia will affect projects like natural gas and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant," Erdogan said, in a speech to businessmen that was broadcast live by the NTV news channel.
Maintaining his tough stance on Russia, Erdogan indicated that Ankara is now looking to energy-rich allies like Qatar and Azerbaijan to fulfill domestic demand. "It is possible to find different suppliers," Erdogan reportedly said.
The Turkish president visited Qatar this week and agreed on a liquefied natural gas deal, while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu travelled to Azerbaijan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to take a tough stance toward Turkey as well, reportedly vowing that Turkey will be made to regret the downing of the plane. However Erdogan, in his speech, assured his country that the sanctions would have little impact on the nation's economy, adding that Turkey would find other buyers for its exports.
“Turkey will not collapse because of your imports of $1 billion,” Erdogan reportedly said, referring to the value of Russia’s annual imports from Turkey. “Who cares if you buy it or not? We'll find other sources behind different doors," he added.
Erdogan has remained unapologetic after the plane's downing despite repeated demands from Putin for an apology as a precondition before talks can resume. Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in the first high-level contact between the two sides since the plane was shot down.