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Putin hosts Erdogan for talks on trade, Ukraine, Syria

MOSCOW — Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited Russia Friday for talks with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, focusing on a grain deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, prospects for talks on ending hostilities in Ukraine, the situation in Syria, and growing economic ties between Moscow and Ankara.

Speaking at the start of the meeting at Putin’s Black Sea residence in Sochi, Erdogan said their negotiations would help “put forward the role that Turkey and Russia play in the region.” He cast the talks as pivotal, saying they were being watched closely by the rest of the world.

“Today, of, course, the world’s eye is on Sochi,” Erdogan said. “They are following it, wondering what is being discussed and done in Sochi.”

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Last month, Turkey and the United Nations helped broker agreements between Russia and Ukraine to clear the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of agricultural products stuck in its Black Sea ports since Moscow sent troops into the country more than five months ago. The deals also allow Russia to export grain and fertilizer.

Three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports Friday. The first vessel to depart under the terms of the deal left Ukraine earlier in the week.

Putin thanked Erdogan for helping to negotiate the grain deal, which is overseen from Istanbul by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations. Cargo vessels are accompanied by Ukrainian pilot ships for safe passage because of explosive mines strewn in the Black Sea.

The Russian leader noted the agreement's importance for many countries around the world that depend on Russian and Ukrainian exports to feed their people and to grow their own crops. “It’s an acute issue for many developing countries, which face major problems with food and fertilizers,” he said.

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In a statement issued after the talks that lasted four hours, Putin and Erdogan emphasized “the necessity of a complete fulfillment of the package deal reached in Istanbul . . . including unhindered export of Russian grain and fertilizers.”

They also noted the “key importance of sincere, frank and trusting ties between Russia and Turkey for regional and global stability.”

In March, Turkey hosted a round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who discussed a possible deal to end the hostilities. The talks fell apart after the meeting in Istanbul, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other for the lack of progress.

When Putin and Erdogan met in Tehran last month on the sidelines of a trilateral summit with Iran, the Turkish leader made the Russian president wait for nearly a minute before entering the room. Some observers interpreted the action as a reflection of Erdogan’s newly assertive stand in relations with Moscow, which has faced increasing pressure from the West.

There was no sign of such posturing during Friday’s talks, which saw the two presidents hailing their ties and vowing to develop them further. Erdogan’s visit to Sochi underlined the importance of close ties with Russia for Turkey.

NATO-member Turkey and Russia have a complex relationship. While the two countries support opposing sides in Syria and Libya, they cooperate closely on defense, energy and trade deals. Their relationship has frustrated Turkey’s Western allies, who were particularly annoyed by Ankara’s purchase of a sophisticated Russian air defense system.

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Turkey has provided Ukraine with drones, which played a significant role in deterring a Russian advance during the early stage of the conflict, but it hasn’t joined in imposing sanctions on Russia.

Putin hailed the energy cooperation between Russia and Turkey, noting the importance of the TurkStream pipeline that delivers Russian gas to Turkey and southern Europe via the Black Sea.

“European partners should be grateful to Turkey for ensuring uninterrupted transit of our gas to European markets,” Putin said.