Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Turkey on Monday to discuss economic ties between the two countries, as well as the crisis in Iraq and Syria, The Associated Press (AP) reported. Russia is Turkey’s second-largest trade partner and the countries' leaders are expected to discuss ways to increase annual bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2020.
The strife in Syria and Iraq is also expected to be addressed during the talks, as Turkey has voiced support for a U.S.-led coalition that is aiding moderate rebels in Syria in their fight to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is one of Putin's closest allies. At the same time, both countries oppose the rise of the Islamic State group, which is attempting to redraw regional borders with its vision of an Islamic caliphate. Turkey recorded $24 billion worth of trade with Russia in the first nine months of 2014, according to Bloomberg.
“The first and last thing there is to know about Turkey’s relationship with Russia is that 60 percent of Turkey’s natural gas imports come from Russia,” Jonathan Friedman, Middle East analyst at risks consultancy Stroz Friedberg, told Bloomberg last week, adding: “Turkey can’t afford to follow the U.S. and EU-led efforts to squeeze Russia by cutting off trade, particularly with the instability on its own border, and with its lack of alternative options.”
Russia is also set to build Turkey’s first nuclear energy plant at Akkuyu, located 305 miles south of the Turkish capital of Ankara.
"Both sides have spheres of common interest and they do not want the disputes to get in the way of these," Ilter Turan, professor of political science at Istanbul Bilgi University, told Agence France-Presse in an earlier interview, adding: “In the case of Syria it may be that there is some coming together because, with (Islamic State group), suddenly there is an element that Russia has as much, if not more, interest in putting down as Turkey."
Putin’s visit comes a day after Pope Francis concluded a visit to Turkey with prayers asking for peace in Ukraine, another controversial topic for the Russian leader, according to The Associated Press, who has been accused by the West of fomenting unrest in the region by arming pro-Moscow separatist rebels, a claim that Russia has consistently denied.