Putin and Erdogan revive pipeline deal

MOSCOW • Amid increasingly tense relations with the United States over Syria, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has taken advantage of a routine meeting in Istanbul to advance the Kremlin's reconciliation with Turkey, including an agreement to revive a suspended natural gas pipeline project.

The new pipeline, known as the Turkish Stream, could be up and running by the end of 2019. It would run under the Black Sea to Turkey and then the Greek border, allowing Russian gas to reach Western markets without using Russia's existing export pipelines through eastern Europe.

The pipeline would make it much easier for Russia to cut off gas supplies to neighbouring countries like Ukraine without disrupting sales to countries farther west like Italy or Austria. Russia has been trying for years to establish such an export route.

Turkey will own an onshore pipeline connected to the first part of the undersea Turkish Stream, while the second onshore line through its territory - possibly towards the European Union - could be owned by a joint venture, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said.

Mr Putin's appearance on Monday at the World Energy Congress in Istanbul was his first visit to Turkey since a crisis in relations between the countries after Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter jet along the border with Syria last November, in which a Russian pilot was killed.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, nominally an ally of the US in Syria, patched things up with a letter of apology and a trip to St Petersburg, Russia, in August.

The two presidents have sought to use their warming relationship to indicate that they are not politically isolated and remain central players in any Syria solution. They sat next to each other in the front row of the congress, laughing together, and later met for bilateral talks.

Mr Putin said after the talks that a mechanism for providing Turkey with a discount on gas prices had been agreed upon. 

Both leaders have had recent troubles with Washington.

The US broke off cooperation with Moscow over Syria and then accused the Kremlin of war crimes.

Mr Erdogan has been criticised by Washington for using the aftermath of a July coup attempt to introduce a sweeping crackdown on a wide array of critics.

"Russia and Turkey are neighbours, so they will have to either cooperate or compete," said Ms Anna Glazova, head of the Asia and Middle East Centre at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies.

"Today, the fact that both countries have troubles with the US brings them closer to each other."

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Putin and Erdogan revive pipeline deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe