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Official website of the President of Russia

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Working visit to Turkey

December 3, 2012, Istanbul

Vladimir Putin met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and took part in a meeting of High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council.

Eleven documents were signed following the meeting, including a medium-term bilateral cooperation programme for 2012–2015 and a number of agreements in the energy, credit and finance, and culture sectors.

Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan made press statements and answered journalists’ questions.

* * *

Press statement and answers to journalists’ questions

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

The trusting and open spirit in which today’s talks took place and the level of our trade and economic ties give us every reason to consider that we have come to a friendly country. We have come not only to visit a partner and neighbour, but truly have come to a country that is our friend. The High-Level Cooperation Council, which just held its third meeting, has once again confirmed its importance as a bilateral partnership mechanism that has already proven its worth. 

The Council’s sector-specific expert groups have done a lot of preparation and ensured that we had a very substantive agenda indeed. We discussed in detail a wide range of issues.

I note that our bilateral trade continues to develop fast. Russia is now in solid second place among Turkey’s trade and economic partners. Last year, despite the general decrease in global trade, our bilateral trade increased by 26 percent, and by a further 14 percent over the first nine months of this year. This is an excellent trend and a good result, especially when set against the global economy’s current difficulties. Our objective, as the Prime Minister just said, is to raise our bilateral trade to the $100-billion mark in the coming years. This is a completely realistic goal. 

We just signed the trade and economic and science and technology cooperation programme through to 2015. The programme aims to bolster our industrial cooperation and develop bilateral ties in construction, the metals industry and agriculture. It also contains measures to promote cooperation in science-intensive sectors such as telecommunications, space exploration and developing satellite systems.

Of course, one of our big cooperation areas is the energy sector, and here, our work together is not limited to fossil fuels, even if they do play a very important part. As the Prime Minister knows, Russia is always ready to give our Turkish partners a shoulder to rely on at difficult times, and if there are any glitches with energy supplies from other countries, we will increase our deliveries at the first demand.

We thank our Turkish friends for their decision on the South Stream project. Construction work will begin in a couple of days, and our Turkish partners and friends have been invited to attend this event too.

I note too our joint plans to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant at Akkuyu. This is a big and promising project involving substantial investment — $20 billion. Russia is taking care of the project financing completely. At least a quarter of the total amount will be spent on creating new jobs in Turkey itself.

Developing our business partnership’s financial infrastructure is another relevant task today. This involves creating a comfortable and favourable environment for investment and for using our national currencies in mutual settlements, as the Prime Minister mentioned just now.

We have just overseen the signing of a number of financial sector agreements. Russia’s Sberbank acquired DenizBank, Turkey’s ninth-biggest bank, in September this year, in a deal worth a total of $3.6 billion. This is one of the biggest deals, if not the biggest, in Europe’s banking sector over the last year.

The Council also discussed humanitarian matters at today’s meeting. Our bilateral public forum is beginning its practical work now.

As far as humanitarian issues go, education and science are both important areas. I spoke about the nuclear project before, and I want to note that more than 100 students from Turkey are studying in this particular field in Russia. In other words, if the project goes ahead – and so far it is going to schedule – it will help to create a whole new high-tech professional sector in Turkey.

There is the tourism sector too. As the Prime Minister noted, 3.5 million Russian tourists visit Turkey every year, and the figure will be even higher this year. This is a sign of our trust in Turkey and its government, a sign of our confidence in your country’s stability. This is what you could call ‘voting with one’s feet’ in the good sense of the term.

Russia and Turkey are neighbours and we share many common pages in history, sometimes dramatic pages. It is very important that we treat this heritage with respect.

We have just signed an agreement on Russian burial sites in Turkey and Turkish burial sites in Russia. This agreement has great human and moral significance and will allow us to develop work to establish and organise decent memorials to immortalise our forebears’ memory.

We have gone through all manner of events in our history, but this is all part of the past now, and we must look toward the future. It makes me very happy to see that our Turkish friends share this view and that this is what we do.

Of course, as was mentioned too, we also discussed the international agenda, including the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Syria, and the situation in North Africa and the Middle East in general.

Let me conclude by once more thanking the Prime Minister and all of our Turkish friends for these very constructive and productive talks. We have agreed to hold the fourth meeting of High-Level Cooperation Council in Russia in 2013. 

Thank you for your attention.

Question: A question for the Russian President. Mr Putin, you just said that you discussed Syria. Could you please comment on the humanitarian aspect of this problem since the Turkish side largely focuses on humanitarian issues.

Turkey is practically the only country to receive all Syrian refugees. We are talking about hundreds of thousands here, if I’m not mistaken, the latest UN reports give us a figure of 462 thousand. This is truly a huge problem. Was this the perspective you discussed the Syrian conflict from in today’s talks and did you hear what your Turkish colleagues had to say?

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: We discussed this problem from many different angles, including the humanitarian aspect. And I must say that our positions fully coincide not only in our judgments of what we see happening in Syria right now but also in terms of what we would like the situation there to be. Right now we can’t find a common position as to the methods we may use to reach these goals, means to settle this conflict.

However, as was mentioned before, we have instructed our foreign ministers to hold additional consultations – some new, fresh ideas came up during the talks but I think it’s too early to talk about that.

We understand only too well the situation that Turkey found itself in with that refugee inflow. We are fully aware of the fact that it’s extremely difficult to ignore such things as shelling (though I’m sure that these were accidents, but it’s still a fact). It’s a huge burden and a huge moral responsibility.

Turkey and Syria are neighbours, and it’s something that we can’t ignore either since this is happening all too close to our state borders. We are in constant contact with our Turkish partners and we will continue this work.

Question: A question about energy industry. You spoke about an important project underway in Turkey to build its first nuclear power plant. Do you think this process is already irreversible? Are there any potential risks taking into account the situation that was, for example, in Bulgaria? How good do you think are its implementation prospects?

And the second question is also energy-related. We are implementing many joint projects, including the South Stream gas pipeline project you have mentioned. That means that eventually Turkey will become a sort of energy hub. But we have the South Stream, the North Stream and a number of other projects we plan to implement. Do you see any priority among them? How are these projects related? Which are more important and which are less important? How do they correlate?

Vladimir Putin: About the NPP prospects. I said that, first of all, everything is to the schedule, no delays, no disruptions. We hope that our Turkish partners make a fair assessment of the risks Russia has assumed. Let me repeat: we have undertaken the 20-billion dollar financing all by ourselves and we hope for the Turkish government’s support.

So far, I see no threats to this project. It’s not so much about the construction of the power plant itself as about the creation of a whole new high-tech industry in Turkey, including the training of domestic staff. And I’m sure that there is no other way because the Turkish side is interested in this project. We too are interested, so I see no threats to its implementation.

Now, talking about Turkey’s transformation into Europe’s energy hub, this is really so. The key priority for us here is the diversification of routes we use to supply our energy resources to our key markets.

You mentioned the North Stream. Yes, that project is completed now, and we are about to launch the South Stream project. But let us remember that we’ve been operating the Blue Stream project for some time now – 16 billion cubic metres of gas we deliver directly to Turkey through this pipeline. It is possible that we can agree with our Turkish partners to expand the Blue Stream gasline to include third countries.

Question (retranslated): We see thousands of people in Syria killed and many refugees fleeing the country. Russia opposed sanctions against Syria. Russia also opposes the deployment of the Patriot missile air-defence system. Do you think there’s any guarantee that Syria will not use nuclear weapons against Turkey?

Vladimir Putin: Are you serious – Syria has nuclear weapons? It's either something that I don't know about or the translation is inaccurate. Are there any guarantees that Syria won't use nuclear weapons? I think the translation is wrong.

Syria is a non-nuclear weapon state and it's far away from producing weapons of mass destruction. This is point number one. But I repeat again, this is only if the translation is correct.

As far as the Patriot system is concerned, first of all, it’s not the best system in the world – it’s not new. And second, we share Turkey’s concern about the situation in border areas.

We understand well the feelings of the Turkish government and the Turkish people. We call for restraint because creating any extra options in border areas won’t improve the situation or ease the tension there, it will only exacerbate the problem. You know, the Chekhov’s gun principle: if you see a loaded gun on stage in the first act of a play, it will fire off in a later act. Do we need more shooting there?

Now, to Russia’s position. You know, we are not the absolute supporters of the Syrian regime, and I’ve already said that. We are not advocates of the incumbent Syrian leadership. Our concern is different: what will the future bring? We don’t want any replay of the mistakes that have been made, in our opinion, in the recent past.

Just remember how active was the West in supporting the Libyan rebels. Who could have thought back then that the same people enjoying so much support from the West would bring the situation to a tragedy – murder of a US ambassador. We should think of the consequences before we take a step.

I already said that this topic has been actively discussed today with our Turkish colleagues, and some new ideas have been voiced but they require extra review and analysis. We will continue to work hard together with Turkey and the entire international community on ways to resolve this complicated problem.

Question (retranslated): As regards extra sanctions against Iran. A statement was made that Russia would render support in terms of sanctions against Iran. Support is also expected from Egypt as regards gas supplies from Russia.

A question to President Putin. The international community talks about your visit, which comes after a certain preparation: you made a visit to Turkey, this is your first visit abroad in the recent past. This is seen as renewal of Russia’s trust in its partners. How do you see it?

Mr Prime Minister said that the Patriot missile air-defence system will be deployed for security reasons. Do you have any guarantee that Syria won’t attack Turkey?

Vladimir Putin: Is this a question for me? Do we guarantee that Syria won’t attack Turkey? We are no guarantors of the situation in the region, we assumed no responsibility, but I’m sure – and you too understand it very well – that Syria has other things to take care of before attacking any of its neighbours. It needs to settle its own problems first. This tragedy, Syria’s shelling of Turkey, I’m sure it’s a pure accident. I have absolutely no doubts about that.

We all understand full well that Syria is far from attacking any of its neighbours. It’s absolutely unrealistic, and you don’t have to be an expert here or have any secret intelligence information to understand it – common sense is enough.

 But there is no doubt that we must seek to end the violence in that country. And this is something that our Turkish colleagues and we agree on completely, and we share the same approach here.

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (retranslated): As regards gas supplies – we have a bilateral agreement with Iran as part of our bilateral relations, it’s a separate issue. Iran is our second largest natural gas supplier after Russia.

On the topic of sanctions – will the same sanctions apply against Iran? We cannot be bound by such sanctions. We have stated before that we will continue buying gas from Iran. We will stick to our position because natural gas is a strategic product for Turkey. We must continue with these deliveries and we will supply corresponding goods in exchange.

We have stated our position many times and we will stick to our policy in this regard since other countries have similar deals too. So, why would Turkey be restricted in its trade and economic relations? Every country sees after its own economic interests, and it works the same way for Turkey.

Thank you for your interest.

December 3, 2012, Istanbul